Hiro Murai: It Begins with His Thoughts

hui2One Tokyo-born filmmaker has been known to sit down and analyze a song by listening to it a thousand times in just one sitting. This is Hiro Murai’s way of studying his subjects and though it may sound like a ton of work, he personally chooses to listen to the song so many times because he enjoys it.  Murai listens to a song repeatedly to comprehend and determine a deeper meaning to it. It is beyond me how Murai is able to analyze a song and then create an abnormal video that illustrates the meaning.  His work is very odd and Murai pushes the envelope on what is acceptable in the music video world.

With thoughts and ideals that are as weird as Murai’s,  one has to wonder what type of environment did the guy grow up in?  He was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, and he became interested in films at an early age He began to watch Japanese mobster flicks directed by Takeshi Kitano, and surreal films, mainly by American director, David Lynch.  Judging by the two types of films he was inspired by, it’s not a huge mystery why his videos are so unpredictable and are vastly different from each other.

hui3Take St. Vincent,  an American musician whose music tends to portray dark themes, and look at her music video, “Cheerleader,” which is about a girl who aspires to become something other than a cheerleader because of the “monster” it turned her into.  I like it because the message tells of a girl who acknowledges her wrongdoings, but as she tries to break free from her chains, she breaks herself in the process.  The whole video is portrayed by St. Vincent as a beautiful piece of glass art that is broken through her struggles.

Now on the other hand, we have another video by Childish Gambino called “3005” that depicts Gambino and a hipster teddy bear on a ferris wheel.  It’s a song about staying together through thick and thin with time passing him by and I feel that this video really captures the message.  These are just two examples that were directed by Murai that show the unpredictability between his ideas in his music videos.

To be fair, in Childish Gambino’s “3005,” Murai had the idea of a ferris wheel with a hipster teddy bear come to him through collaboration with Donald Glover, aka, Gambino.  In an interview with Kathy Iandoli, a blogger for Noisey, a  well-known website featuring the latest and hottest music, Murai said, “Whenever I work with Donald, a lot of ideas come from him-like the initial ideas.  Then we just build off of it, piece by piece.” It might be slightly strange to see Murai giving props to someone else for the initial ideas, because anyone who knows of Hiro Murai, understands that he likes to come up with his own ideas to have an emotional attachment to it.

Thinking of ideas for directors to place in a video can sometimes be tiresome, but Murai looks at this thought process as a challenge for him.  Yeah, I personally know that it is tough to come up with ideas out of the blue and fit them together like a puzzle inside of a film or music video, but I think that’s where creativity comes in and takes over.  For Murai, thinking for him can vary with different projects, and due to that, his videos are vastly distinct.  However, there is always one thing that inspires him to create a video a certain way, and whether it’s a word, an image or just a randomization of objects, it creates an end result of an uncanny video with a message.

hui4When working with Cults, an American indie pop band, it just happened to be a word that gave him his first motivation for creating the video.  The name of the song was “High Road,” a song that unfortunately had mediocre lyrics, but the instrumentals of the song could make their audience oblivious to that fact.  The Cults had their album named “Static,” and Murai pounced on that word quick, reminiscing about old television sets with a lot of static on the screen.  He decided to make the video portray an ominous, fearful feel to it and he really was able to grasp that by the black and white cinematography and the numerous, yet almost random objects.   Or, so it would seem, the chair, the butterflies, and the burning car are all aimless objects that have no purpose inside of the video; but it’s quite evident that is not the case.

I remember watching several of videos that Murai directed before Cults’ “High Road,” and when I came across this one, the first thing I thought was, “Why am I watching a bunch of camera angles on objects that do not go with the lyrics?”  Honestly, I felt like I, myself, grabbed a Canon camera, grabbed a chair and a few other things, and then made a video in a couple of hours.  I couldn’t understand what was the reason he chose these particular things for his video.  Well, later on in the interview with Noisey’s Iandoli, I found out.  He explained, “I think it’s like when you make a collage.  You pick all of these elements, and you see how they feel together.  You eliminate the things that don’t fit together; so there’s not a real rhyme or reason.  A lot of it is intuitive.” After reading his explanation, I feel that his reason for using the objects that he did, in the way he did, shows that his thinking is so abstract, that it would be difficult for a lot of people to understand his reasoning, and for that purpose, I would definitely like to see more of his work.


Because I wanted to see more of Murai’s work, I turned to YouTube and found Earl Sweatshirt’s first single, “Chum,” a music video that Murai directed and helped publish in late 2012.  This video grabbed a lot of attention because, not only did the lyrics seem to cause a lot of people to recall rap produced in the eighties and nineties, but the camera angles and placements in the video made me actually think about what was going on.  During the majority of the video, the camera would have people in the background upside down, whereas Sweatshirt would be rightside up.  I quickly learned that cameras are alway placed in a certain position for a reason, and this would be no different.  From my perspective, it seems like Sweatshirt is in confusion of his past, present and possibly, even his future.  One line in the song, “Too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks,” was supposed to describe his type of rapping, and for the most part, I can understand where he’s coming from.  Since most of modern day rap talks about women, money, cars, hustling and violence, a lot of people would find it refreshing to find a modern day rapper talk about something else.  With Murai’s guidance, the song became very successful through the director’s music video.  Since then, Sweatshirt has had Murai direct some of his videos like “Grief,” and “Hive,” and the fact that Sweatshirt keeps calling for the Japanese director shows Murai’s talent behind the camera.

Looking back at some of the videos he directed, you can see the talent and fortitude that he has. Though it’s hard to figure out where Hiro Murai  get’s some of his strange ideas, it’s apparent that he has a knack for putting weird things into videos and getting applause in response.

-Te’Ron Adams