Anime has long been used by artists and storytellers to explain the history, culture, and great tragedies of their countries. From Akira and its look at the fallout from a nuclear attack, to Grave of the Fireflies and its first hand account of the aftermath of war, anime have often told the most difficult stories in beautiful, artistic, and unique ways. While Jellyfish Eyes is not an anime in the traditional sense – much of the film is live action, with computer generated special effects added in – it does feel much like an anime in the way the characters look, interact, and react to tragedy around them.
Directed by Takashi Murakami, from an original idea he wrote, Jellyfish Eyes is the story of a young boy (Masashi) who is suffering after the loss of his father. He moves with his mother in a small town where strange things immediately begin happening. Within just a short time Masashi has become friends with a strange creature with jellyfish like attributes. He also finds out that all of the children in town have become friends (or F.R.I.E.N.D.S.) with magical, cartoon-like creatures. They use these creatures to stage epic battles, much like in a fighting themed anime series. Little do they know, however, that a mysterious group of cloaked figures have encouraged the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. battles in order to raise levels of negative energy through the children in order to call forth the ultimate F.R.I.E.N.D. for their own purposes.
While Takashi Murakami created Jellyfish Eyes for wide audiences, including children and families, it is not as light-hearted as other anime films are for young viewers. Fight scenes are graphically violent, children get hurt in sometimes terrifying ways, and time is spent exploring darker storylines, including the death of a parent, religious fanaticism, and rebuilding after a natural disaster such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake that led to the tsunami that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Nearly 16,000 people died because of the earthquake and tsunami – it was one of the worst disasters in recent decades for Japan and the world. And while the continuing effects of the disaster have been felt throughout the Japanese culture for years, the mainstream media has all together cast a shadow over the events and widespread, lasting effects, presenting Murakami with the perfect opportunity to bring light to the situation.
The film uses the elements of fantastical creatures, battle sequences, and the harnessing of negative energy to explain the lasting effects of the Fukushima accident. In real life, the effects have not been so magical or friendly. A rise in thyroid cancer in children living in and around the area could be directly related to the disaster, and though studies continue, international attention to them has waned over the last few years as the media has focused on other issues, including school shootings, Ebola outbreaks, civil wars, and natural disasters in other areas.
The main antagonists seek to create a bigger, better Japan, but they do it at the cost of the children living in their country. This directly relates to the use of nuclear power coming from plants like Fukushima. Sure they create power for citizens across the country, but at what cost? Is it worth it to keep building nuclear power plants and relying on nuclear power, when the cost could be so high when a disaster strikes? Over 85% of the population don’t trust nuclear power anymore. Many believe a turn to other sources of power such as solar, wind, or energy providers that offer renewable sources are a step in the right direction, but would prefer a full nuclear industry shut down.
Jellyfish Eyes is a fantastic film with magical elements that seeks to bring light to a horrible tragedy in a beautiful and profound way. While many reviews of the film have been harsh and the criticism is unending, this is most likely due in large part to critics expecting the film to be a work of contemporary high art. Murakami comes from a background in Japanese contemporary art, the switch in media and audiences he has attempted is a difficult jump for any established artist. But just as any work of art is subject to criticism, every work is an interpretation of an artist’s perspective, and this is Murakami’s.