At first glance, this poké-concept children’s film lacks the familiar dynamic and disquieting qualities of Japanese pop-culture artist turned director Takashi Murakami‘s best work. Stick with it and there’s a peculiar parental cult and some adventurous battle scenes that bolster the low budget feel and throw around enough references to his greatest hits to make the experience somewhat worthwhile.

It’s a simple enough tale of a boy arriving in a new town to discover that mysterious mini-creatures have befriended the local school children. However, their presence has triggered a series of fights that produces the negative energy sought after by four black-caped teenagers hellbent on causing global destruction (when they’re not eating ramen). Can the children and their cute creatures overcome their difficulties to save the world?

Apart from the participation of a renowned contemporary artist, it’s hard to imagine what prompted The Criterion Collection to open their hallowed halls to this one. Despite Murakami’s “boundless imagination”, the film offers little the Japanese entertainment mega-complex – across manga, video games and anime – hasn’t already done countless times before. Whilst Murakami’s artwork has always operated on a cross-cultural pivot point, his debut film undermines his usual dismissal of distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art by just not being very good. Still, if you admire the production-line quality of his gallery shows, this is an easily affordable entry point.



  • A big breasted anime woman-child goes into digi-battle with a slobbering frog and an insane pig-like creature with a jet-powered anvil on its head.



  • An interview with TAKASHI MURAKAMI gives the director opportunity to make thematic connections with his visual art and provide a brief history of Japanese pop culture. This simple doc adds necessary depth to the film and is a fascinating insight into the reality of moviemaking, even for a commercially successful artist like Murakami. Taking advantage of an industry in the doldrums following the Fukushima incident, the low budget film was improvised between Murakami and his “supervising director”, Yoshihiro Nishimura, before being rushed into production to fit in with the school summer break. Collaborating with a horror movie director because no one else would call, Murakami talks openly about the clash of creative styles that resulted in baffling early edits and necessary reshoots. Murakami’s honest approach somewhat redeems the disc as a whole.
  • MAKING F.R.I.E.N.D.S. deals with the frantic sculpting of more than 100 creatures to meet production deadlines. As Murakami stumbles through the sculptors’ studios, he hacks into their works in progress, readily admitting he must be a “nightmare”. With so much patchy CGI slathered over the final film, it’s interesting to see the old-school origins of his menagerie.
  • TAKASHI MURAKAMI: THE ART OF FILM is a new making of doc. We learn more about Murakami’s collaboration with his experienced crew and his decision to self-finance the film through his own production house, Kaikai Kiki Co. That Murakami is learning about moviemaking at every stage is clear – he even buys a man-bag at one point to fit in with the crew. He ends up with a ‘looks about right’ one from Patagonia – rather than the ‘looks good’ model from The North Face – which is a cute metaphor for the film as a whole.
  • Which leads us to the TRAILER FOR JELLYFISH EYES 2 where Murakami’s franchise seems to have gone the full MATRIX. We wonder if Criterion will get round to releasing that one?
  • Finally, a flimsy insert includes notes about the digital masters, acknowledgements and production credits. An essay – GODS AND MONSTERS: MURAKAMI GOES TO THE MOVIES – by Glen Helfand tries too hard to make Murakami’s film an artwork of intentional significance. The aroma of intellectual overcompensation wafts from the page anytime the phrase “best viewed through this transcultural lens” is used.


  • Visit the movie’s official website.
  • VOGUE gives good interview with the artist cum director.
  • SLANT MAGAZINE liked the movie way more than we did.
  • FILM GRIMOIRE reviewed the movie in her BLINDSPOT list for 2016.
  • BLU-RAY.COM gives good review of the disc’s technical qualities, as ever.