News and Opinion

Obayashi Nobuhiko, a Movie Man

The film director Obayashi Nobuhiko passed away on April 10, succumbing to the cancer he had been battling for several years. He was 82.

Here is a photo I love of him with my son Ian.


Obayashi-kantoku was a guest at Yale in the fall of 2015, coming with his wife and producer Kyoko and his daughter Chigumi. They even came to our home for dinner, so the news hits me not just as a loss for cinema, but as a personal loss as well. It is in part because of such a relationship that I know we lost not just a great film director, but also a great human being.

Obayashi-kantoku was an important part of my education as a viewer of Japanese film. Like many who hit their teens in the 1970s, when Japanese cinema was supposedly in decline and rarely presented abroad, I grew up first watching the classics, from Kurosawa to Ozu to Oshima (with luckily a lot of Daiei jidaigeki thanks to the Thalia in NYC). The exceptions were the rare new films such as The Family Game (which I wrote about here) and Tampopo that earned US releases in the eighties. When I was in Iowa, probably in 1988 or 1989, I finally got to see a series of contemporary Japanese films new to the USA that was touring the country. Included was Obayashi’s I Are You, You Am Me (Tenkosei, 1982), a gender-bending film with an affectionate concern for amateur moviemaking that stuck with me. When I went to Japan in 1992 (and stayed there for about eleven years), one of the things I caught in the first year was a series of the best films of the previous year at the Bungeiza in Ikebukuro. There I saw The Rocking Horsemen (Seishun dendekedekedeke, 1992), which remains one of my favorite Obayashi films. Obayashi-kantoku, in a sense, was a core part of my introduction to contemporary Japanese cinema.

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