In a world that has almost forgotten one of the largest, most devastating nuclear disasters ever, Takashi Murakami brings it back into the spotlight wrapped in a metaphor faintly reminiscent of Pokemon. Jellyfish Eyes, produced originally in 2013 in Japan and just receiving a US release, is a children’s film from famed artist Murakami which, under layers of symbolism, asks questions about energy production and consumption that reminds us that we live in a Post-Fukushima world.
The story follows Musashi, a child who has moved to an evacuation city having just lost his home and his father to an unnamed disaster that is implied to be the tsunami which caused a nuclear meltdown, irradiating the area around the Fukushima nuclear facility. When he arrives he finds out that the kids of the town all collect F.R.I.E.N.D.s – part creature, part imaginary friend, part digital constructions that can be trained to battle. Musashi adopts Kurage-Bo (“Jellyfish Boy”), a F.R.I.E.N.D. who helps him discover a conspiracy by evil scientists to use the anger, hatred, and anxiety of kids competing with one another to produce a new energy source.
Many aspects of the film, from the death of the main character’s father to the appearance at the end of the giant monster Oval, which is presented visually both to mimic the tsunami and the results of the nuclear disaster, reference Fukushima. Murakami tried very hard to integrate the heavy subtext into a children’s film without it feeling overwrought.
“When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster happened, and especially when the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosion happened, before that I already had ideas for a film and this story,” said Murakami in a recent interview. “But because of that happening I was able to expand and deepen the story that I already had in my mind, and that ultimately came out to about a 90-minute, feature-length story.”
Part of what this disaster has taught us is how important it is to find cleaner, alternative sources of power, and Jellyfish Eyes does an excellent job of addressing that concern. Whether it’s nuclear or children’s anxiety, unchecked power is dangerous, suggests Murakami.
In the case of the real disaster, it began with an earthquake that resulted in a large tsunami hitting the coast of Japan. Unfortunately, the Fukushima nuclear facility was situated in its path, resulting in damage that took several days to attempt to control and eventually ending in an explosion which has irradiated the area, killing and injuring hundreds and resulting in mass evacuations, some of which have just begun to be lifted this year. People left all of their possessions at the time and still don’t know whether the radiation exposure might have had unseen effects on them.
The film itself seeks to promote a message of cautious exploration, the need to find new energy sources while simultaneously taking great pains to make sure they are safe. According to a recent survey, over 85% of the population don’t trust nuclear power anymore, and Duke Energy has reported that both wind and solar power are becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuels in terms of price and efficiency. Both the subtext and the greater story of the film, as campy as it is by Western standards at times, make a point that is not to avoid these advancements in energy production, but to approach them with care.
Ultimately, what Murakami is asking us to do is to remember what happened and to take those lessons with us into the future. “There’s the meltdown right there, but people are looking away and pretending like nothing has happened, and they want to feel like nothing wrong is going on,” said Murakami, signaling his desire for this movie to be a wake-up call. Jellyfish Eyes does more than just tell the story of kids and their battle monsters, it also reminds us what we should have learned from a modern tragedy.