Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi (b. 1938) began his career as a pioneer of Japanese experimental cinema in the 1960s, going on to create a number of innovative and popular commercials afterwards, then moving to feature films in the late 70s and establishing himself with a string of cult and mainstream successes.
|House © Courtesy of Janus Films|
Obayashi remained virtually unknown in the U.S. until he burst into the consciousness of many American film fans with his hit studio debut House (1977), which made a splash upon its rediscovery in 2009 when it screened at the New York Asian Film Festival and was subsequently run at IFC Center and released on DVD by the Criterion Collection. But House was only the beginning.
From November 20 through December 6, Japan Society presents the largest ever retrospective on Obayashi organized in the U.S., with 10 feature films and a short spanning 50 years of his career, from 1964 through 2014. Launching with House and concluding with his most recent feature Seven Weeks, and featuring several appearances by Obayashi himself, Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Retrospective provides a thorough introduction (or reintroduction) to this endlessly innovative, singular film artist, highlighting a number of commercial and personal films, most of which are unknown outside of Japan.
Guest curated by Dr. Aaron Gerow, Professor of Film Studies and East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University, who made the selection in conversation with Obayashi himself, the series offers a deeper understanding and appreciation of Obayashi’s major themes and considers Obayashi’s entire career beyond cult favorites, presenting him as an established auteur with a coherent vision. "One of the last major Japanese directors active since the 1960s, Nobuhiko Obayashi is a wonderful study in contrasts," writes Gerow.
|The Rocking Horsemen © PSC.|
These rich contrasts are reflected in the impressive range of films in Obayashi’s oeuvre – from early avant-garde work such as his seminal short Complexe (screening in advance of House on Nov. 20), which Gerow calls a "monument" of Japanese experimental film, to popular genre films such as the rock-n-roll coming of age film The Rocking Horsemen (Nov. 22) and the murder mystery Reason (Dec. 6) – each film “an exploration of cinematic form.”
Obayashi’s sense of exploration is further evidenced by his willingness to use the latest technologies (continually reaffirming his status as a stylistic innovator) while simultaneously looking back on the history of Japanese cinema, by honoring past masters such as Yasujiro Ozu in Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast (Nov. 21), and Japan itself, evoking the nightmare of war and atomic holocaust in his most recent tour de force Seven Weeks (Dec. 6).
Gerow notes that Obayashi's worldview is often defined by nostalgia, particularly for a lost love, such as in Haruka, Nostalgia (Nov. 22) or The Discarnates (Dec. 5). Yet his interest in the past is also expressed through a self-conscious understanding of the limits of its depiction, perhaps most significantly in Sada (Nov. 22), his hyper-stylized, purposefully artificial take on the famous story of Sada Abe, whose brutal crime of passion took on mythic overtones in Japan. And while Obayashi’s interest in the past might be firmly rooted in the local, particularly his hometown of Onomichi, as used in I Are You, You Am Me (Nov. 21), “his adventure in cinema is universal and still very contemporary,” says Gerow. “Such contrasts have made him both fascinating and complex – one of the most bountiful of Japanese filmmakers.”
|A Dialogue: Living Harmony, directed by Chigumi Obayashi|
In addition to introducing House and taking part in a Q&A following the screening, Obayashi will appear in an intimate, in-depth public conversation prior to the screenings taking place on Saturday, November 21. For this U.S. visit, Obayashi will be accompanied by his daughter, Chigumi Obayashi, also a filmmaker, who will present her own documentary film A Dialogue: Living Harmony on November 18 before the retrospective starts, co-presented with Japan Society's U.S.-Japan Innovators Network. (Chigumi is also credited as providing Obayashi with the story for House at the age of 7.)
Admission: $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students, except for the opening night screening of House, $15/$12, including after party. Tickets can be purchased online at www.japansociety.org, by calling the Japan Society Box Office at 212-715-1258, or in person during regular business hours. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets for at least three films/events in the same transaction receive $2 off each ticket; offer available only through purchases made in-person by calling the Box Office.
SCREENING SCHEDULE (for descriptions of the films, dates, & times, and to order tickets)