EXCLUSIVE: Janus Films has acquired North American rights to Takashi Murakami’s genre-busting fantasy film Jellyfish Eyes, the contemporary artist’s feature directorial debut. The plan is for a July 15 release at New York’s IFC Center with Murakami doing a post-screening Q&A, and day-and-date on digital platforms like iTunes and Amazon. A national rollout will follow. This is part of a planned trilogy; the second pic already is in production.

janus__120821172301-200x216Janus and close partner The Criterion Collection specialize in finding foreign art house gems like this appears to be. The vivid pic blends live action and CG to tell the story of a boy who moves to the country with his mother following the death of his father. He makes a most unlikely friend: a flying, jellyfish-like sprite that he nicknames Kurage-bo. He soon discovers that his schoolmates have similar friends — and that they, their creators and the town itself are not all they seem to be. The pic draws from Japanese pop culture, manga and Hollywood movies and is set in a post-Fukushima Japan. The creature designs and handmade special effects took nearly 10 years to make. (Check out the trailer below.)

“No contemporary artist has upended expectations about fine art and popular culture more consistently and successfully than Takashi Murakami, and Janus Films is thrilled to be bringing his latest surprise to screens across America,” said Janus Films partner and Criterion president Peter Becker. “A glorious mash-up of kids program conventions with sophisticated social and political themes, Murakami’s first feature is brimming over with original characters conceived, sculpted, and brought to life with all the infectious energy and intensity we have come to expect from one of the world’s most celebrated artists.”

Murakami, a painter and sculptor, originated the “Superflat” art movement in Japan and has been dabbling in video for years. He teamed with Louis Vuitton on a series of animated shorts and did music videos with the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. He is repped by WME, Management 360, Blum & Poe, and Darren Trattner.