Jellyfish Eyes (2013) Poster

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Terrible. What was Criterion thinking?
ebossert18 January 2016
Note: Check me out as the "Asian Movie Enthusiast" on YouTube, where I review tons of Asian movies.

Jellyfish Eyes (2013) (Japanese Fantasy Drama/Action) – Children are able to communicate and control fantastical creatures, but they are unknowingly being used in an evil plan to collect negative energy. Bad CGI (computer generated imagery) isn't much of a problem if the rest of the film is good, but in this case it's a big problem because the rest of the film basically sucks. And this is coming from a guy who loves cheesy movies; it's not like a sit around swirling cognac all day, watching nothing but art-house movies on repeat. Heck, "The Boxer's Omen" (1983) is one of my favorite movies of all time! But that movie actually had some charm to it. There's no charm to be found in Jellyfish Eyes . . . because it's really friggin' lazy. There's no character development whatsoever. The performances, in general, are terrible. None of the kids can act and their interactions are obnoxious. I've seen a handful of South Korean films starring Sae-ron Kim and a handful of Japanese films directed by Hirokazu Koreeda – so I know what good child acting looks like. It's not here. The alleged subtext on contemporary Japanese issues is practically non-existent; and even when it does exist, it's shallow and worthless. The director here is apparently a popular artist. Well, I didn't see much artistry here, pal. This is especially true during the monster battles, which were mostly terrible.

Now, if you enjoyed this movie then that's great, but I personally haven't been this embarrassed or angry while watching a Japanese movie since I saw Sadako 3D back in 2012. And if you've seen Sadako 3D, you know what I'm talking about. And yes, Jellyfish Eyes is very much on the same level as Sadako 3D. But, you know what? I'll go the extra mile here. If you're interested in a film where humans control little fantastical spirits and use them in battles, go watch the Japanese film "Battle League Horumo" (2009), because it's way better than this.

I do have admiration for the Criterion Collection, which is a video-distribution company that has released tons of Japanese films in America. I greatly appreciate their efforts. I really do. However, that doesn't automatically mean that they're immune to criticism. One question that came to mind is this: What on earth was Criterion thinking when they released this steaming turd? Did anyone at Criterion actually watch Jellyfish Eyes before they decided to distribute it in the United States? Of all the great Japanese films that have been released over the last 15 years, Criterion decides to release . . . this. I did a little research and found out that Janus Films acquired the rights to distribute Jellyfish Eyes in North America. And Janus Films apparently has a very close relationship with Criterion regarding the release of their films on DVD. So there you have it. That's your explanation. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Now you may think that I'm overreacting to one noticeably awful decision by Criterion, but there is an obvious trend going on over there. Their mission statement says that they are dedicated to "important classic and contemporary films." And I could easily list over 100 modern Japanese films that are entirely deserving of a Criterion DVD release. Yet for some reason, Criterion is extremely apprehensive at releasing contemporary Japanese films. If you look on their website, they have 191 Japanese films listed in their catalogue. Guess how many of those are post-2000 releases? 2 of them: Still Walking (2008) and Jellyfish Eyes (2013). Taking into consideration their mission statement, what kind of message does that send to their fans? Think about this for a second. Criterion is dedicated to "important classic and contemporary films" yet 189 of the 191 Japanese films listed on their website library are films that were made before the year 2000. That tells me, that Criterion is either completely ignorant of modern Japanese film, or they simply don't think that modern Japanese films are worthy of distribution. As a fan of both classic and contemporary Japanese cinema, that kinda rubs me the wrong way.

Listen, Criterion can release whatever films they want, but the fact that they almost completely ignore the plethora of great films that Japan has released in recent years only intensifies the general misconception that Japanese classics are the only Japanese films that one should bother to watch. I see this misconception all the time, and the main reason this misconception exists is due to incompetent DVD distribution for modern Japanese films. If Criterion really wanted to release a Japanese film from the year 2013, they could have chosen something like . . . Miss Zombie – which is an art-house horror film that's right up their alley; it's glacially paced and shot in black-and-white for goodness sakes! Miss Zombie is one of the best horror films of the last 30 years, but few Americans have heard about it because companies like Criterion choose to release films like Jellyfish Eyes instead. The cinematic "opportunity cost" here is enormous.
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Poignant Fable of the Environment from Japan
alisonc-120 July 2014
Young Masashi moves with his mother to a small town after his father is killed in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, a town that is home to a large, and largely secret, laboratory where Masashi's uncle works. As soon as he arrives, he meets a small flying monster living in the apartment and, as he becomes friends with it, he names it Kurage-bo ("Jellyfish boy"). Soon he finds that all the kids in school have their own special monsters, called a F.R.I.E.N.D., which they can control with the use of a cell-phone type device. Masashi doesn't have such a device, however, and some of the other boys are using their creatures to fight one another, bullying the smaller creatures and kids. Why are these creatures there, and does the laboratory have anything to do with it? What is the laboratory trying to create, anyway, and will that secret work be a force for good or for evil in the world? Masashi, Kurage-bo and some other young children and creatures may have to sacrifice all to find out....

This is a very sweet, somewhat poignant children's movie, that draws upon manga, Pokemon and, to my eyes anyway, some muppets as well, in order to create a world in which the environmental changes caused by humans are able to be explored. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, sometimes psychedelic even, and while the story-line sometimes jumps rather abruptly, the film's pro-environmental message is nicely stated. Quite a feast for the eyes!
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Everything Takashi Murakami
cguldal19 July 2015
Those who are familiar with Takashi Murakami's work will instantly recognize the elements that are the essentials of his art in Jellyfish Eyes, which goes beyond the instantly recognizable creatures (F.R.I.E.N.D.s). There is the plot line, which is classic melodramatic anime plot that has elements of family life, school life, and supernatural science fiction stuff. The "good" characters are interested, and at times conflicted, but the "bad" characters (there really is only one outwardly and consistently super bad guy with an evil laugh) lack dimension. The dialog (in Japanese) sounds just like the overwrought dialog of an epic anime series; you could close your eyes and swear this is an anime show! And then there is the real stuff, which may not be too obvious to the Western audience, but all too familiar to the Japanese, I imagine: the dad who died in the national disaster, the stay in the evacuation center that is mentioned twice, the religious cults that found an increasing number of followers after the recent events in Japan, the age-old idea that war and destruction is cleansing and required for a new beginning... The negative energy cloud that looks a lot like an inverted atom bomb mushroom...

All in all, highly recommended for people who like Japanese anime, epic stories, and weird science. Not recommended for anyone who is not open to the anime tradition, as expecting something different will cause disappointment. Also, recommended for Godzilla and cheekama fans!
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