Director: Takashi Murakami
Starring: Takuto Sueoka, Himeka Asami, Takumi Satoh, Shota Sometani
Moving to a more rural town, Masashi (Takuto Sueoka) finds the prospect of acclimating to a new school and new setting more daunting considering his family’s reasons for relocating. He finds the transition much easier when he encounters and befriends a strange creature, naming it Kurage-bo (Akiko Yajima). He soon discovers that all the kids in town have similar creatures, dubbed F.R.I.E.N.D.s but it is kept secret from the adults. What is the secret behind the F.R.I.E.N.D.s and how did such unique beings come to the children’s possession? As Masashi deals with the rigors of childhood including bullies and friendship with a classmate (Himeka Asami) he will have to find a surprising strength within him and his new powerful friends.
Pop artist Takashi Murakami directs his first feature film with high regard to kaiju films and electronic gaming. Utilizing some very high end special effects and a menagerie of creatures which are sure to sell pretty much anything they are plastered on, the film looks like a million bucks. Clearly made for the adolescent set, I could see myself loving this film 20 years ago but its numerous cinematic flaws take away any sort of mature enjoyment for the film audience.
There is a scene early on in the film where, after seeing his new classes’ excess of F.R.I.E.N.D.s running around the classroom, the instructor turns around only to come face to face with a just turned invisible creature. Despite being directly in front of her, she can’t or perhaps won’t see it and this scene pretty much encapsulates the film as a whole for me. Thematically, the film deals with the blindness of parents and adults to children and their struggles. The adults, generally overall, are non-entities here, caught up in their own drama and absent to the emotional needs of our characters. Cinematically, the film has a sense of wonder that kids will love, but adults just can’t notice. As opposed to a number of great youth centered films which maintain a level of engagement to all ages, recent films from Pixar and Dreamworks spring to mind, this film firmly plants its feet in the kid’s pool with all that that entails.
What the film does well is in the wildly entertaining Pokemon/martial arts style battles between the creatures which are brought wonderfully to life with surprisingly fun and kid friendly choreography and humor. Referencing everything from Bruce Lee to Ultraman it’s certainly the highlight of the film. Takuto Sueoka as the lead has a real hamminess that, for me at least, made him more than a little unlikable. The young female lead, Himeka Asami, fares much better and her quiet approach was much more natural than Sueoka’s over the top acting. I actually quite enjoyed the popish instrumental tracks used throughout the film’s scenes of supposition, and there is good track from group livetune featuring Hatsune Miku used for the film’s theme song that further taps the otaku sect.
In the end, Jellyfish Eyes should squarely be viewed by only the young or the very young at heart. With its goofy but fun presentation it is one of the more accessible of modern Japanese cinema for those with children or those wishing to introduce international cinema to youths, but it is a miasma of pop culture and noise that while mildly amusing, can never transition the appropriate heart and storytelling to the screen.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: CJ7, Juvenile, and/or The Great Yokai War