Nobuhiko Obayashi
Nobuhiko Obayashi

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) will highlight the work of legendary director Nobuhiko Obayashi at the 32nd edition of the festival, taking place October 28 to November 5, 2019.

This year’s Director in Focus in the Japan Now section will shine a spotlight on the iconic director, hosting a retrospective of his works from the classics to his latest masterwork, demonstrating his indelible contributions to the Japanese film industry. Obayashi has been dubbed a “cinematic magician” for his dreamlike visual expression, and he has continued to inspire other directors throughout his career, winning accolades from critics and aficionados alike.

His most well-known titles include I Are You, You Am Me (1982), The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (1983), and Lonely Heart (1985) known as the Onomichi Trilogy. Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2011), Seven Weeks (2014) and Hanagatami (2017) have been called the War Trilogy, which was completed even the director had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. Obayashi’s recent works have drawn attention from abroad, and TIFF will host the world premiere of his latest film, Labyrinth of Cinema.

Nobuhiko Obayashi commented: “Live freely. That’s the mark of peace,” said my father. He gave me an 8mm camera as if it were his memento when I moved to Tokyo at 18. I screened my first 8mm film in one corner of a Ginza art gallery, which earned international recognition and was acclaimed as the birth of a new film artist. Since then, I have been making personal films with funds earned by creating TV commercials for 60 years. Invited by the major studio Toho, despite being an outsider, I shot House, which allowed me to recognize that even an aesthetic literary work could be adapted to the commercial film genre. Although I had the experience of being a naively patriotic supporter of Japan during World War II, I have continued to create films in a variety of genres that imply an antiwar stance. It has been 61 years since my wife, Kyoko Obayashi, prepared herself to become “the wife of a struggling auteur.” I have worked hard to create films even today with Kyoko, who has supported my films by connecting them with the world, saying “I’m your first audience.” We have also had the support of our daughter Chigumi, who was one of the original writers of House at the age of 11, her husband and manga artist Takehito Moriizumi, and close friends from the older and newer generations. It was difficult to select the titles for this TIFF tribute, but I hope you will watch my rarely screened films. As the years roll by, there are many more personal films being made, as I always hoped. I hope the audience will enjoy both the signs of freedom and of restricted freedoms in my work. It would be fun if my true character is revealed.

Japanese auteur Nobuhiko Obayashi is a forerunner of today’s independent film directors, a field he pioneered. His first commercial film, House, surprised audiences with unique touches not found in the work of studio directors. He was a leading light in Japanese films of the 70s and 80s with his fantastical and poetic works, including the Onomichi Trilogy, all of which came to be called Obayashi World. In recent years, once again deploying experimental and distinctive narratives, he has continued to create fresh films, pursuing themes around pacifism and humanism. Obayashi’s films depict the shadows of loved ones, lost history, lost youth, memories and imaginary happy endings that people dream of, followed by the reality. In this year’s Japan Now section, TIFF will showcase the masterpieces of legendary director Nobuhiko Obayashi, as well as hosting Q&A sessions and special talk events. – Kohei Ando, TIFF Programming Advisor.

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