The famous designer is making his directorial debut with ''Jellyfish Eyes,'' a fantastical bildungsroman about a boy and his alien friend

By Nina Terrero
May 30, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

He’s made couture handbags and collaborated with Kanye. His pieces command price tags in the millions. Now the Japanese multimedia artist known for his candy-colored creations has directed his first film, Jellyfish Eyes, a live-action/CG-animation hybrid that will play in select museums nationwide beginning this month. We spoke with Murakami, 52, about his jump to the silver screen and five other key moments in his career.

The Artist Makes a Movie 2014
In Jellyfish Eyes, Murakami’s feature directorial debut, a sad boy (Takuto Sueoka) finds companionship with an extraterrestrial in a coming-of-age tale set in the aftermath of a disaster that recalls the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The film, the first in a planned trilogy, fuses Japanese popular culture with Western influences such as E.T. — Murakami’s favorite film — to create a world in which cuddly creatures like the titular alien battle for freedom against evil scientists. For Murakami, the movie was a chance to further explore his philosophy of the “superflat” (i.e., the marriage of “high” and “low” art). His fans will quickly recognize the movie’s name: Variations on that character recur throughout Murakami’s art. “The movie itself is seen through children’s eyes, looking out into this unreasonable world as they try to make sense of it,” he says. “Jellyfish don’t actually have eyes, so that nonsense is an embodiment of the film itself.”

Trading Racy for Macy 2010
Murakami’s work is often sexually risqué, but the artist says his participation in the very G-rated Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was one of his “most important experiences” to date. His Kaikai and Kiki character balloons, he says, “provided pleasure for little children to see and enjoy.”

Versailles, C’est Moi 2010
Murakami is the only contemporary Japanese artist to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles. A radical juxtaposition of Western traditionalism and modern Japan, the show filled 15 of Versailles’ lavish rooms with Murakami’s whimsical work, including the psychedelic, smiley-faced sculpture Flower Matango, which sat in the gilded Hall of Mirrors. “This chaotic mixture represents what Japan is like now,” he says of the exhibit.

Kanye Comes Calling 2007
Kanye West tapped Murakami to create the cover for Graduation (and later, an animated video for “Good Morning”). The artist gave West more than 15 options, and then…the musician took nearly two years to decide on the final images. “Kanye tends to take a really long time mulling over things,” Murakami says.

Pop! Goes Louis Vuitton 2002
Murakami says he’d never even heard of Louis Vuitton when the couture house asked him to infuse a series of handbags and luggage with his playful sensibility. “I thought fashion was superficial, something frivolous,” he says. “But through this collaboration, I learned about fashion in a technical way and lost that weird bias.” The Murakami LV sacs instantly became favorites among starlets and fashionistas; they still fetch as much as $1,800 on eBay.

An Impish Icon is Born 1993
One of his best-known pieces is Mr. DOB, a character that he has revisited so many times, it’s become a self-portrait of sorts. The title is a play on the Japanese expression “dobojite,” or “why?”