Takashi Murakami’s Jellyfish Eyes: Sci-Fi, Anime, and Fukushima
Known for blurring the line between high and low arts, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami combines pointed critiques of post-war Japan with a colorful pop aesthetic. Indeed, his prints have adorned Louis Vuitton purses but also make regular appearances at Sotheby’s and international galleries and museums. He coined the term “superflat” to describe the two-dimensional quality of Japanese arts—a characteristic of everything from wood block prints to manga—and the superficial nature of post-war Japanese culture and society. “Superflat” is also used as a moniker to describe Murakami’s own artistic style and that of other Japanese artists he has influenced. Jellyfish Eyes (2013) represents Murakami’s first foray into feature-length film, and it explores post-Fukushima Japan and the uneasy, ongoing relationship with nuclear energy in Japanese culture. Taking elements from sci-fi, traditional Japanese daikaju monster films like Godzilla, anime, and Japanese notions of kawaii, or “cuteness,” Murakami examines how his society has “flattened” serious questions, concerns, and fears into these “childish” cultural phenomena. In the film, schoolchildren are bestowed with Pokémon-like monster companions that they can summon with their cell phones. Unbeknownst to them, however, the nearby nuclear plant is harvesting their data and negative energy through these “F.R.I.E.N.D.s” to create a monstrous agent of destruction. As Murakami notes, this uneasy relationship with energy reflects a fraught reality:
Even now that popular sentiment has largely turned against nuclear energy, we still cannot stop its use. I can’t help but feel that this dilemma is much like that of a country that wants to end a war but cannot.