Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Japan Society is doing a full on retrospective of NOBUHIKO OBAYASHI the director of House
Introduces Cult Hit 'House' and Takes Part in Career-Spanning Conversation
Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Retrospective
November 20-December 6, 2015, at Japan Society
New York, NY – 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.
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.
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.”
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.
Film descriptions written by Aaron Gerow.
Friday, November 20 at 7:00 pm
**Introduction and Q&A with Nobuhiko Obayashi.
**Followed by the Hausu Party.
1977, 99 min., 35mm, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Oba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako.
Hoping for something wild to electrify a Japanese cinema that had hit the doldrums, Toho gave newcomer Nobuhiko Obayashi free reign to make something no one had seen before. And he did. Ostensibly a horror film about a girl who brings her friends to her aunt's house, only to see them killed, one by one, by possessed household furniture and appliances, House often plunges into parody, while also demonstrating all the tricks that were possible with celluloid which we in the digital age have forgotten. Obayashi's debut film vigorously proclaimed his name at home and eventually abroad, but it was also a marvelous sign of what was to come. "Delirious, deranged, gonzo or just gone, baby, gone--no single adjective or even a pileup does justice to House." --Manohla Dargis, The New York Times. (Read a compilation of reviews here.)
1964, 14 min., 16mm, tinted b/w, silent.
One of the monuments in the history of Japanese experimental film, Complexe actually shares much with Obayashi's later commercial work: a delightful play with film form (slow motion, animation using human figures, freeze frames, etc.), a consciousness of the camera, a charming mix of pop genres and European art cinema, and a nostalgic, if not Romanticist tone.
Bound for the Fields, the Mountains and the Seacoast (No Yuki Yama Yuki Umibe Yuki)
Saturday, November 21 at 4:00 pm
1986, 135 min., 16mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Isako Washio, Koichi Sato, Yasufumi Hayashi, Junichiro Katagiri, Tomokazu Miura. Co-presented with The Japan Foundation.
Two versions are available of this story of kids banding together to try to rescue their idol from being sold into prostitution immediately before WWII, one in color and one in B&W. While the latter is now unavailable, even the color version reveals how Obayashi musters much of classical Japanese film, particularly 1930s Shochiku and Yasujiro Ozu--as well as a bit of experimental film, particularly Shuji Terayama--to present both a playful critique of wartime social power and the Japan that was lost in its destruction, as well as Obayashi's imaginary revenge against that structure. Even the idol looks a bit like Setsuko Hara!
I Are You, You Am Me (aka Exchange Student) (Tenkousei)
Saturday, November 21 at 7:00 pm
**Nobuhiko Obayashi in attendance
1982, 112 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Toshinori Omi, Satomi Kobayashi, Makoto Sato. Print courtesy of Kawakita Memorial Film Institute.
Two adolescent classmates, the girl Kazumi and the boy Kazuo, tumble down some stairs and find they've switched bodies. This results in pubescent comic confusion and serious pronoun trouble, but Obayashi colors the gender confusion with a tinge of autobiographical nostalgia, not only filming in his hometown of Onomichi, but also framing the story through B&W 8mm film. When a character can say "I are you," then perhaps saying goodbye to another becomes a farewell to oneself, framed by the lens of an old home movie camera. The film was so crucial to his filmography that Obayashi remade it in 2007.
Sunday, November 22 at 1:00 pm
1998, 132 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Hitomi Kuroki, Kippei Shiina, Toshie Negishi, Tsurutaro Kataoka.
Sada Abe, the woman who notoriously strangled and castrated her lover and became the basis for Nagisa Oshima's masterpiece, In the Realm of the Senses, may seem far removed from Obayashi's young and pure women. But by rendering Sada into an innocent maiden whose pure love for a sickly medical student is offered as the backstory for her life, the film emphasizes that her image is artificial, that Sada herself is "a movie"--and perhaps all the more tragic for being so. A technical tour de force, citing multiple facets of modern Japanese image culture, Sada won the FIPRESCI award at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival. "Bursting with invention and trickery." --David Stratton, Variety.
Haruka, Nostalgia (Haruka, Nosutarujii)
Sunday, November 22 at 4:00 pm
1993, 165 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Hiroshi Katsuno, Hikari Ishida, Yoji Matsuda, Toshinori Omi, Bengaru.
Obayashi has made several films about memory and lost loves, and Haruka, Nostalgia is the most famous. These films connect with another major Obayashi theme: the young, innocent woman--termed shojo in Japanese. While now a centerpiece of Japanese culture, from girls comics to Hayao Miyazaki's heroines, the shojo in Obayashi are liminal figures inhabiting the boundaries between past and present and life and death, confronting the heroes with their own mortality. In this film, a writer of shojo novels returns to his hometown of Otaru and encounters first a young woman and then, mysteriously, his own, youthful self, forcing him to remember a girl he once loved and rejected.
The Rocking Horsemen (Seishun Dendekedekedeke)
Sunday, November 22 at 7:30 pm
1992, 135 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with live English subtitles. With Yasufumi Hayashi, Tadanobu Asano, Yoshiyuki Omori, Taketoshi Nagahori.
Obayashi again ventures into the past via The Ventures, to the time when Japanese youth discovered the electric guitar and rock and roll in the mid-1960s. Four high schoolers in a small coastal town on Shikoku Island hear "Pipeline" on the radio and decide to form their own band. The film features the problems with girls, family and life after adolescence that are staples of the genre, but Obayashi enthusiastically joins the band with his camera, giving a bravura performance. The Rocking Horsemen features a quite young Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer).
Beijing Watermelon (Pekin no Suika)
Saturday, December 5 at 4:00 pm
1989, 135 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with live English subtitles. With Bengaru, Masako Motai, Yasufumi Hayashi, Haruhiko Saito, Takashi Sasano.
Based on the true story of a Tokyo greengrocer who started helping out poor exchange students from China, Beijing Watermelon is a delicious oddity in Obayashi's filmography. While again using his stock cast of actors like Toru Minegishi and Yasufumi Hayashi, he gives the starring role to Bengaru, a journeyman by-player, and keeps his camera at a distance, letting the performers fill the screen with wonderfully anarchic movement and the soundtrack with busy, overlapping dialogue. The result is a kind of Japanese masala, a multi-ethnic mix of spices. "Quirky, original and unpredictable." --Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times. (English subtitles created in-house by Japan Society just for this screening.)
The Discarnates (Ijin Tachi to no Natsu)
Saturday, December 5 at 7:00 pm
1988, 115 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with live English subtitles. With Morio Kazama, Kumiko Akiyoshi, Tsurutaro Kataoka, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yuko Natori
Obayashi's efforts to revisit the past of both Japan and its cinema are often mirrored by characters who explore their own pasts. As with Tomorrow (1995), The Discarnates takes this to the supernatural level, as a scriptwriter mysteriously encounters his dead father in Tokyo's old Asakusa neighborhood one day and begins enjoying the time with his parents--in the Japan of the late 1950s--that he never had, since they died when he was 12 years old. Obayashi allows his characters the opportunity to make up for a loss, but only by underlining how nostalgia is often a longing for what one never had. Winner, 1989 Mainichi Film Award for Best Director. "So firm is Obayashi's control that he can get away with both the sentimental and the bizarre... [you] may well come away from The Discarnates surprised by the intensity of its emotional impact."--Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times
Reason (aka The Motive) (Riyuu)
Sunday, December 6 at 3:00 pm
2004, 160 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Takehiro Murata, Saki Terashima, Ryo Kase, Ayumi Ito, Toshie Negishi.
Based on a novel by hit mystery writer Miyuki Miyabe, Reason is a good example of Miyabe's focus on the social causes of crime. What seems to be the murder of a family of four in a high-rise condo turns out to be something quite different, as the pasts of both the killer and the killer's killer are explored, divulging their "reasons." First broadcast on the WOWOW satellite channel before being released in theaters, the film extends the novel into a different media by having many of the characters address the camera, not just making us the detective, but making us and the medium itself part of the society that may itself be the "reason."
Seven Weeks (No no Nanananoka)
Sunday, December 6 at 7:00 pm
2014, 171 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. With Toru Shinagawa, Saki Terashima, Tokie Hidari, Yumi Adachi, Takako Tokiwa
Obayashi's most recent film is a grand compilation of his career. Ostensibly about a family mourning the death of their 92-year-old patriarch, it spans the local (set in Ashibetsu, a small northern town whose residents helped fund it) and the global (referencing the history of Japan's colonization of Sakhalin Island, now part of Russia), and explores themes of lost love, memory, war and art. Ruthlessly fragmenting scenes and setting a furious pace with one experimental technique following another, Seven Weeks 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. "Seven Weeks pulses with more hot-blooded vitality and audacity than most films by [Obayashi's] younger compatriots." --Don Brown, The Asahi Shimbun. JAPAN CUTS 2015 title.
A Dialogue: Living Harmony (Hyaku Nen Gohan)
Wednesday, November 18 at 7:00 pm
**Followed by a reception
$20/$15 Japan Society members, seniors & students
2014, 65 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Chigumi Obayashi.
This directorial debut by Chigumi Obayashi (daughter of Nobuhiko Obayashi and co-writer of his cult-classic House) is a documentary that sheds light on the town of Usuki in Oita Prefecture, Japan that came together in 2010 to build the Usuki Compost Manufacturing Center in an effort to revitalize itself through sustainable means. Through the town’s story and its unconventional narrative structure, the film poses universal questions about the future of food and the environment. The screening will be followed by a discussion and Q&A between Obayashi and Richard McCarthy, Executive Director of Slow Food USA and a member of Japan Society’s Innovators Network. Co-Presented by the Japan Society Innovators Network.
Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation
Saturday, November 21 at 1:00 pm
$12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students
In conjunction with his largest-ever U.S. retrospective, famed director Nobuhiko Obayashi appears in person to discuss his career, from what got him started in experimental film and how he transitioned to commercials (working with celebrities like Charles Bronson, Sophia Loren, and Catherine Deneuve), to his biggest influences and inspirations when he began making feature films. Moderated by series curator Aaron Gerow.
Born in Onomichi, Hiroshima in 1938, Nobuhiko Obayashi began creating films at age three after first encountering a film projector in a home storage room. By the time he was in his 20s, his independent film Tabeta Hito aka The Person Who is Eaten (1963) won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1963 Belgium International Experimental Film Festival, and his 16mm experimental film Emotion (1966) played around Japan at galleries and universities to wide acclaim. During the early years of television, he directed many commercials with international figures such as Charles Bronson for the brand “Mandam”, Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve. From the 60s to today he has directed over 2,000 commercials. In 1977, he directed his first feature film House, which won the Blue Ribbon Award for Best Newcomer, a prestigious
award presented by film critics and writers in Japan. His three films shot in his hometown—Exchange Students, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Lonely Heart—are widely known as the “Onomichi Trilogy.” He has won many awards including the FIPRESCI Award at Berlin International Film Festival for Sada (1998). He is also the recipient of the Spring 2004 Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon and the Fall 2009 The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette from the Japanese government. For further details about Obayashi's life and career, read Midnight Eye's "Nobuhiko Obayashi, Vagabond of Time". His experimental films from 1960-68 have been digitally archived at www.ubu.com/film/obayashi.html.
Aaron Gerow is Professor of East Asian Cinema and Culture at Yale University and has published widely on variety of topics in Japanese film and popular culture. His books include Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925 (2010); A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan (2008); and Kitano Takeshi (2007). He also runs his own Japanese film website, Tangemania. More at aarongerow.com.
The Japan Society Film Program offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's arts and culture programs. Japan Society has actively introduced Japanese cinema to New York’s international audiences since the 1970s, presenting works by the era’s then-new giants such as Shohei Imamura, Seijun Suzuki, and Hiroshi Teshigahara upon their first release, and groundbreaking retrospectives on now canonical figures such as Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. The Film Program has featured retrospectives of great directors, thematic series and many U.S. premieres, and toured some series to other U.S. venues. While Japan Society’s repertory film programming gained new momentum and institutional support in the 70s as a full-fledged program, the first screening at Japan Society was actually in 1922, a four-reel film of then Crown Prince Hirohito’s 1921 visit to Europe. For more, visit www.japansociety.org/film.
Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.
Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit www.japansociety.org.
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This program is subsidized by J-LOP+, funding from The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan. Japan Society's Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, Kenneth A. Cowin, Mr. and Mrs. Omar H. Al-Farisi, Laurel Gonsalves, David S. Howe, James Read Levy, Geoff Matters, and Dr. Tatsuji Namba. Screening of A Dialogue: Living Harmony is made possible in part with public funds from NYSCA’s Electronic Media and Film Presentation Funds grant program, administered by
The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes.
NOBUHIKO OBAYASHI: A RETROSPECTIVE SCHEDULE AT-A-GLANCE
Friday, November 20
7:00 pm - House (preceded by Complexe) + After Party
Saturday, November 21
1:00 - Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation
4:00 - Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast
7:00 - I Are You, You Am Me (aka Exchange Student)
Sunday, November 22
1:00 - Sada
4:00 - Haruka, Nostalgia
7:30 - The Rocking Horsemen
Saturday, December 5
4:00 - Beijing Watermelon
7:00 - The Discarnates
Sunday, December 6
3:00 - Reason (aka The Motive)
7:00 - Seven Weeks
OTHER FILMS SCREENING AT JAPAN SOCIETY THROUGH DECEMBER 2015
TICKETS AND INFORMATION HERE