TRAGEDIES OF YOUTH:
NOBUHIKO OBAYASHI’S WAR TRILOGY
In the last decade of his long and prolific career, Nobuhiko Obayashi (1938-2020) —best-known in the U.S. as the filmmaker behind the cult hit House (1977)—wrote and directed a trio of deeply personal and formally audacious films that confronted Japan’s wartime past.
Made in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011 and informed by Obayashi’s firsthand experience as a child born on the eve of World War II in Hiroshima Prefecture, the staggering films in this trilogy—consisting of Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012), Seven Weeks (2014) and Hanagatami (2017)—collectively consider the loss of innocence for an entire generation of Japanese youth raised in the shadow of war and national disaster. (Japan Society)
Casting Blossoms to the Sky
2012, 2hrs 40min, In Japanese with English Subtitles
In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, journalist Reiko Endo (Yasuko Matsuyuki) travels to the city of Nagaoka in Niigata Prefecture as it prepares for an annual fireworks festival memorializing the fallen victims of war. Drawn to the city by an old flame who plans to put on a war-themed play written by a mysterious student, Reiko embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she learns the storied history of Nagaoka and the ghosts of its war-torn past.
Nobuhiko Obayashi’s imaginative first entry in his war trilogy is a deeply moving work of mourning, compassion and hope that ultimately celebrates the resilience of humankind in the wake of debilitating catastrophe. Drawing parallels between war and the existential threats of modern disasters, Casting Blossoms to the Sky is a film dedicated to “the children of the future from adults who lived the past.” (Japan Society)
2014, 2hrs 51min, In Japanese with English Subtitles
In his follow-up to Casting Blossoms to the Sky, Nobuhiko Obayashi continues to explore themes of lost love, memory, war and art.
At 2:46 PM on March 11, 2013 in Ashibetsu, Hokkaido Prefecture, Mitsuo Suzuki (Toru Shinagawa) takes his last breath at the ripe age of 92. As the patriarch’s far-flung family gathers to make preparations for his passing, a mysterious and unknown woman (Takako Tokiwa) appears among them. Together, they begin to unravel the secret history of Mitsuo’s long life, including shocking tales of war in Sakhalin (an island in the Japanese archipelago that is now a part of Russia). Ruthlessly fragmenting scenes and setting a furious pace with one experimental technique following another, Obayashi’s breathless film breaks down the barriers between past and present, reality and illusion, and even self and other, all in order to create an emotionally profound experience of loss and hope. (Japan Society)
2014, 2hrs 51min, In Japanese with English Subtitles
After being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at the age of 80 and given six months to live, Nobuhiko Obayashi set out to fulfill his filmmaking dream: an adaptation of a 1937 novella by Kazuo Dan that the director had originally hoped to make even before his legendary debut House in 1977.
In the spring of 1941, wide-eyed 17-year-old Toshihiko Sakakiyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka) arrives in the coastal town of Karatsu in Saga Prefecture and befriends a group of teenage classmates who fall in love, quarrel and stumble through their remaining days of youth as war looms on the horizon. An extravagantly stylized epic that makes the most of green screens, elaborate lighting and dizzying editing, Obayashi’s passion project and swan song is a grand culmination of the great director’s dazzling visual style and a poignant reminder of the tragedy of war for this generation. (Japan Society)
Nobuhiko Obayashi Nobuhiko Obayashi was born on January 9, 1938, in the city of Onomichi, Japan. His father, a doctor, was called to the battlefront during World War II, and so he was raised by his maternal grandparents. Obayashi followed many artistic pursuits through his childhood and adolescence, including drawing, writing, music, and even animation and film.
Following the war, Obayashi moved to Tokyo and began experimenting with eight-millimeter films, becoming a vital figure of the Japanese experimental scene in the 1960s. A producer from an advertising firm at one of his screenings offered Obayashi the chance to make short commercials. It led to a series of trippy ads, some featuring Western movie stars, including Charles Bronson. Obayashi’s professional was being to take off.
However, international recognition would take a few more decades until the 2009 re-release in the US and UK of his 1977 horror film House (Hausu). Through House, Western audiences become introduced to his distinct style of surreal filmmaking and anti-war themes. Especially his signature use of the green screen – over which he projected kitschy otherworldly realities and suggestive Japanese landscapes, as well as his exuberant use of color and playful visual tricks that make the experience of an Obayashi picture rarely short of sensational. The Los Angeles Times described House as “one of the most enduringly — and endearingly — weird cult movies of the last few decades.”
Obayashi’s antiwar trilogy, Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012), Seven Weeks (2014), and Hanagatami (2017), came late in his career. The most famous, Hanagatami, is based on a 1937 novella by Kazuo Dan and made following a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2016. Hanagatami depicts Japan’s foolish militarism at the time of the Second World War while at the same time offering an elegy to the impermanence of youth.
Obayashi died at his home in Tokyo at 82 due to lung cancer, first diagnosed in 2016