Sound And Vision: Jimmy T. Murakami

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Jimmy T. Murakami

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at Kate Bush's King of the Mountain, directed by Jimmy T. Murakami.

With the recent passing of Roger Corman, I would like to look back at the work of one of his protegés, and especially his music videos. Many people are aware that Corman helped launch the careers of people like Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Jack Nicholson and many many more. But one of the lesser known names is Jimmy T. Murakami, even though I consider him to be quite great.

Murakami started out as an uncredited co-director on Humanoids from the Deep, before making one of Corman's bigger budget films, Battle Beyond The Stars. It was one of the few times that Corman (relatively) splurged on the budget, and Murakami made a big impression with the fun special effects. Trained as an animator, Murakami knows how to do special effects wizardry, and his dent on science fiction and space opera fantasy continued with him co-directing the opening segment of Heavy Metal, the infamous animation based on the Metal Hurlant/ Heavy Metal comics.

As a director of long-form animation he really made an impact with two underrated classics based on books by Raymond Briggs: the Christmas staple The Snowman, and the nuclear fall-out drama When The Wind Blows. The title track of the latter film was sung by David Bowie, and Murakami also directed the tie-in music video. Murakami later stated in the documentary Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien, that he, as a Japanese-American director, wanted to show the consequences war and nuclear bombs could have. Murakami, in that documentary, revisits his past as a young child in an American internment camp for Japanese-American citizens during World War II, a traumatizing and dehumanizing experience that has been swept under the rug. Murakami felt rejected by his fellow countrymen, and he kept searching for a new home. He eventually settled down in Ireland, becoming an influental figure in European animation.

It is there, late in his career, that he made a music video for Kate Bush's King of the Mountain (see below), also a late-career song for the enchanting singer. Kate Bush explores the after-life of Elvis, addressing him as if he is still alive, looking back on his legacy and wealth. She adresses themes of power and monetary corruption, comparing Elvis to Kane from Citizen Kane, through the mention of 'Rosebud', the famous prop from the movie. In the music video, Murakami visually also references Citizen Kane, especially by emulating the way that film uses newspaper headlines to underline or counterpoint important plotlines.

King of the Mountain
feels like a recap of every important visual trope and theme that Murakami hit on in his earlier work, an also showcases everything he does well as a director. There is the special effects wizardry, seamlessly placing Kate Bush in a fully animated dream world. There is the animation artistry, in which inanimate objects are brought to life, here Elvis' suit, which, like The Snowman from his Raymond Briggs-adaptation, starts leading a life of his own, and takes flight.

The power of flight, present in Battle Beyond the Stars, The Snowman, When the Wind Blows, Heavy Metal and a few other projects, shows up in a way that is both emblematic of the wonder of technology, and the way in which progress can corrupt. The idea of corruption, and progress being a force to hurt others, that runs as a throughline through Murakami's entire oeuvre, here is present too. Was Elvis becoming an icon really the best that could happen to him, ask both Bush and Murakami? What was his Rosebud, what was the past he needed to return to to come full circle?

That is a theme ever-present in Murakami's oeuvre too: melancholic reference to the past. The past is a country you can't visit ever again, but can look back on and learn from. Or you can shelter yourself from it, and die, sickly, as in When the Wind Blows. In Murakami's last project, the aforementioned documentary Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien he eventually revisits the interment camps that haunted him, and he finds a sense of community among the elderly American-Japanese co-travellers. He comes full circle. In the documentary he states the need for people to get closure, and he gets his.

King of the Mountain is, in a way, him and Bush trying to give Elvis Presley the closure that eluded the king. Film, and animation especially, has the power to let people live on for long after. To build ghostly memories. To close of chapters. Film is that most ephemeral of arts. Murakami understood that, even when working under Corman. And before Murakami passed away, he closed the chapter on his own past. Both with the aforementioned documentary, but in a way with this music video too. It might be one of the best things Murakami ever directed, and his career is excellent either way. He might not have the largest career among the acolytes of Corman, but he has, definitely one of the most eclectic ones. He deserves a larger spotlight. Seek his work out.

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