Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation at Japan Cuts 2020

スクリーンショット 2020-07-14 午前10.16.50

As mentioned in my last post, I’m still quarantining in Japan. But I wanted to let everyone know about a panel discussion I did on the work of the late filmmaker Obayashi Nobuhiko for this year’s edition of Japan Cuts. We recorded it on June 23 and it will go live online starting on July 17 here

As anyone who’s read this blog knows, my relationship with Obayashi goes back many years, beginning with simply watching him as a spectator until I finally met him in 2014. We hosted him at Yale in 2015, immediately after which the Japan Society ran an Obayashi retrospective that I programmed. I was even honored to write a short contribution to a book that Obayashi published. When he passed away in April this year, after his long battle with cancer, I wrote up a remembrance that, while still quite feeble, hopefully gives a sense of what Obayashi meant to me and to my family.

In late May, Kazu Watanabe of the Japan Society contacted me about the possibility of moderating a panel on Obayashi for this year’s Japan Cuts, which due to COVID-19 was going online this year. Japan Cuts was not only going to be showing Obayashi’s last film, Labyrinth of Cinema, along with a documentary on Obayashi and his wife/producer Kyoko, it was creating a new award for its Next Generation section named after Obayashi. Kazu explained that the festival wanted to hold some form of commemorative event on Obayashi that would be online.

We had some back and forth about the participants, and decided on four individuals, plus me as moderator. Given how multi-faceted Obayashi was, I wanted to have people who could offer different perspectives: in this case, from behind the camera, in front of the camera, in front of the screen, and behind the projector. First, of course, was Obayashi Chigumi, Obayashi’s daughter, who had collaborated with many of her father’s films—even appearing in a few—most famously providing the outline for House when she was still a teenager. If she offered the view behind the camera, the actress Tokiwa Takako, who became an Obayashi regular in his last few films, would provide a perspective from in front of the camera. I wanted a film critic to talk about Obayashi’s reputation in Japan, so I asked Ishitobi Noriki of the Asahi newspaper (with whom I served on the review panel of the 2017 Tokyo Film Festival), who penned a touching two-part remembrance of Obayashi for the paper. Finally, as a representative of film exhibitors, I asked Nakajima Yo, who runs the Theater Kino in Sapporo. Since my wife is from Sapporo, we have been to Kino many times and know Nakajima from way back. I was struck by his heartfelt series of Facebook posts on his long relationship with Obayashi and asked him to talk about the director both as an exhibitor and as a witness to Obayashi’s long commitment to local spaces like Hokkaido. 

I had known everyone except Tokiwa for several years, so the mutual familiarity I think helped the conversation. We recorded the panel via Zoom on the 23rd (evening my time in Connecticut; morning for the rest in Japan), and I think it went very well. There was laughter and there were tears, and everyone was able to describe their own unique views of Obayashi. I actually learned a lot. We ended with a discussion of Labyrinth of Cinema and its relation to Obayashi’s oeuvre. What I think was supposed to be an hour-long conversation ended up going over 90 minutes. Since it was recorded, the plan was to edit it if necessary, but in the end I don’t think much was edited. The conversation was conducted in Japanese, but everything is being subtitled. I’ve seen the rough cut and it looks great (though, as usual, I am embarrassed to view myself). While the films at Japan Cuts are not free, this panel is, so please take a look!


After the conclusion of Japan Cuts 2020, the festival has made all its panel discussions and director introductions available on YouTube. Here is the playlist, and here is our panel on Obayashi:

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