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Behind The Lens: Inside the Weirdly Wired Brain of Director Hiro Murai

I need a Hiro! This man is responsible the videos of Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino, St. Vincent, Cults, and more. He also knows where to find a decent hipster teddy bear.

Hiro Murai is a fascinating dude. If you’ve ever seen Earl Sweatshirt’s “Chum” video (above), followed by “Hive,” you’ll notice his tendency to favor random visuals ranging from gigantic frogs to Odd Future members riding bikes in scary-as-fuck masks. That’s just the kind of imagery you’ll find through the lens of Hiro.

Growing up, he was fed a healthy diet of Takeshi Kitano Japanese mobster flicks plus David Lynch, which has, as a result, informed his unpredictable output where no video bears a resemblance to each other. Check St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader” and then chase it with the Sia-featuring “She Wolf” by David Guetta ” to see how crazy his ideas vary.

It was hard to decide which video for Hiro to dissect, so I picked two: the simple (yet complex) video for Childish Gambino’s “3005” and the scary, full of symbolism visuals for Cults’ “High Road.” Hiro had a lot to say about both. The Tokyo-born, LA bred director chops it up about his videos, his upcoming mixtape (jokes), and how full-length feature films are next on his to-do list.

Childish Gambino – “3005”

Noisey: So in the “3005” video, where did you get that hipster teddy bear?
Hiro: The hipster teddy bear? Well it was my production designer. He went on a hunt for one. We were just looking for a stuffed animal in general. We found one that was wearing a hat that was really similar to what Donald [Glover] was wearing on talk shows and whatnot. So we picked that one. He’s hipster because of the hat right?

Yeah. He has a hat on like Childish Gambino. Who is a hipster. How did the concept of the ferris wheel come about, circling through the amusement park through the light and dark?
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. We never have a complete idea when we start. For this one, he knew that he wanted it to be one-shot, and he knew that he wanted it to be on a ferris wheel. So we were looking for ways to make that interesting for three and a half minutes. A lot of it was placing lights and the dramatic movement, having this progression that eventually revealed the flaming cityscape and the deteriorating teddy bear.

Do you like that better, when an artist comes to you with some sort of a concept? Or do you prefer to invent the idea yourself?
I usually prefer to do it myself. I’m not a control freak, but I like to be attached to the idea—at least emotionally. I don’t really accept ideas from artists, but with Donald it’s been really, really great. He’s a writer, and he’s a very creative guy. He’s also a great collaborator, so there’s something very intuitive and natural about working with him.

And you like weird things anyway, and that’s kind of a weird concept. It feels like your lane anyway.
[Laughs]Yeah, exactly! Totally. He wasn’t pitching me like daisies and bubblegum. What he was pitching was definitely in my wheelhouse.

It felt like he was on that ferris wheel for like two years.
I know! I never like to get too literal on the videos, but it’s supposed to give that “Time was kind of passing by” and taking this very mundane ferris wheel ride that turns into something a little trippier and more surreal as the video goes along, which is also why the teddy bear starts deteriorating towards the end.

Do you like ferris wheels? I know some people hate them and other people love them.
I like them. I used to be terrified of heights as a kid. Once I got over that, I’m intrigued by them because I was so scared of it when I was a kid. That one in particular was really fast for some reason. There was something kind of crazy about being on that ferris wheel for such a long time, especially the extras. They were basically on there the entire time. They were literally on the longest ferris wheel ride ever. Like six hours.

So did you shut down a whole carnival for that?
It’s the ferris wheel that’s at the Newport Beach docks. It’s family-owned. It’s not a carnival, but it’s been there for decades I think. It’s a very traditional old school ferris wheel, and every time you kind of shifted your weight, the whole thing would swing back and forth. It’s pretty intense.

Cults – “High Road”

So this video scared the shit out of me. I felt like I was watching The Ring. Where did the concept come from of flashing these random images on the screen?
[Laughs] I think a lot of the original inspiration came from old Hitchcock movies, with the scenes of hallucination. There’s a very consciously retro thing happening there. We wanted to kind of connect all of these abstract images without having a literal destination for it. It’s more about how these images fit together and how they feel together. We were kind of pushing through it so fast that we didn’t really have time to register the specifics.

The TV screen reminded me of Poltergeist
Haha yup! The TV screen in particular was specifically lifted from their album is called Static. I was thinking the staticky TV, old TV image was on their line when they were doing that album. So the TV was directly off of what they had already been marketing, using for press. But it’s supposed to be mysterious and it’s supposed to be ominous, strange…

What about all of the other images: the moose head, the spiral staircase, the butterflies, the car on fire. Where did you come up with all of those things?
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. Also, a lot of the things we picked – we knew it was going to be black and white, we knew it was supposed to be very graphical. So the things we picked had to look very clean, graphical, and slick. The fire was kind of the progression for the video, where we introduced these things in a very clean environment. Eventually it gets more and more distorted, TV screens starts to fuzz out, and everything in the world’s on fire by the end of it.

How do you develop the treatments for these videos? Do you listen to the song a million times or do you have random concepts in your head that you’ve been wanting to use?
I definitely listen to the song A LOT. Like in the course of writing the treatment and then seeing it and editing it, I’ve probably listened to the song like 1,000 times. It’s a lot. Most of the time I can’t listen to the song after the video’s done. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that I’ve worked on at a restaurant or on the radio and I’ll have this visceral physical reaction. I’ll start shuddering and I won’t know why [laughs]. So yeah the videos come out of the music a lot. I like the idea of creating something to the music. I also think there are specific things that I’ll be into at any given moment. I think that shows up in the videos. Even with “3005” and “High Road,” I was completely into…fire [laughs] or things deteriorating into fire. It’s whatever is in my head.

What’s currently in your head?
What IS in my head? I’m emptying my cache right now. I haven’t written a treatment in like two months. I was in New York for like a month, and I was consciously just taking in a lot of books and movies. I’m just clearing my mind of everything to reset and start over again.

Aren’t you a part of a film collective or company with all video directors and stuff?
Kind of. It was kind of a post-studio and VFX studio for a little bit, but it’s mainly just a loose collective of filmmakers and people I went to film school with, and people I collaborate with all the time.

Are you guys gonna like put out a mixtape or something?
[Laughs] Yeah. We’re working on it. I’ll be making the beats.

What are you working on next?
There might be some videos on the horizon. I don’t wanna jinx it by saying it, but yeah, nothing concrete yet. I’ve been in recharge mode, because I’ve been thinking of longer form things to work on. Maybe like a movie or a TV show or something. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do. For now, I’m dipping my feet in the pool and seeing how it feels.

Oh hey Hiro! This picture is making me feel weird.

Kathy is cool because she knows you should three olives in your pre-1pm martini. She’s also on Twitter - @Kath3000