Nobuhiko Obayashi, an idiosyncratic Japanese filmmaker whose varied resume included a horror film about a house full of furniture eating schoolgirls, a fantasy about a boy who befriends a six-inch tall samurai and a anti-war trilogy that he finished while being treated for cancer, died on April 10 in Tokyo. He was 82 years old.
The cause was lung cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2016, said the Associated Press, citing an advertisement on the website for its latest film, “Labyrinth of Cinema”.
Mr. Obayashi’s first surprising feature in 1977 was “House”, a crazy horror film that is more comical than scary. The Los Angeles Times called it “one of the strangest and most enduring cult films of recent decades.”
Reviewing in the New York Times in 2010, during a theatrical release at the IFC Center in Manhattan before the release of a DVD, Manohla Dargis described what was going on.
“It may be a haunted house,” she wrote, “But it is the film that is most truly possessed: in one scene, a piano bites the fingers of a musician while tickling its keys; in another, a severed head tries to take a bite from the back of “A girl, breaking her behind as if it were an apple. Later, a room full of futons goes on the attack.”
Mr. Obayashi followed “House” with several other films about young people. Some had supernatural powers, as in “The little girl who conquered time” (1983), over a time traveler. “The Rocking Horsemen” (1992) was a comedy about young Japanese people from the 1960s who discovered the American rock group Ventures’ “Pipeline” record and are inspired to form their own group.
In the fantasy adventure filled with special effects “Samurai Kids” (1993), an 8-year-old boy meets a former samurai warrior who is only six inches tall, allowing Mr. Obayashi to have fun by making a gigantic cat and a crow like an airliner.
“Nobuhiko Obayashi is a real fantasy”, Donald Richie wrote in a brief review of this film in The International Herald Tribune. “Thanks to a quick cut, witty details and extraordinary care, he effortlessly rejects his prodigious events and transforms a children’s film into a magic rich in emotions.”
Late in Mr. Obayashi’s career came his anti-war trilogy, “Casting Blossoms to the Sky” (2012), “Seven Weeks” (2014) and “Hanagatami” (2017). The third of these, based on a 1937 novel by Kazuo Dan, was a film he had wanted to make 40 years earlier, at the start of his career.
“But it was a period of economic boom in Japan, driven by consumerism,” he said. told Asia Times in 2017. “Everyone forgot about the war, and I realized it was not the right time.”
Whatever the subject, Mr. Obayashi’s films were inventive both visually and in their narration.
“Obayashi baffled the public through a strange and strange mixture of absurd humor, sexual innuendos, violence and melancholy,” said Josh Siegel, film curator at the Museum of Modern Art, by email.
The Japan Society, when it mounted an Obayashi retrospective in New York in 2015, simply called him “a filmmaker who is infinitely innovative”.
Mr. Obayashi was born on January 9, 1938 in Onomichi, in the prefecture whose capital is Hiroshima.
He said he was first fascinated by the film when, at the age of 3, he found a projector in his house and, thinking it was some kind of toy train, started to turn the handle. The image she projected started to move.
“I really liked it,” he said through a translator. in a speech at the Japan Society retrospective, “this idea of something that is starting to come to life and to move. It was really my first encounter with cinema.”
Mr. Siegel said that Hiroshima’s atomic bombing still haunts Mr. Obayashi and could have led him to the collective of post-war artists, writers, performers and filmmakers known as the Art Theater Guild, who said Mr. Siegel, “rebelled politically and aesthetically extremist ways against the jingoist demands of self-sacrifice and unconditional obedience to the authority that had led to Japan’s engagement in the war.
Mr. Obayashi moved to Tokyo in the late 1950s and started experimenting with eight-millimeter films, and in the 1960s, part of his work was featured in art film screenings. One producer from an advertising company was at one of these screenings and offered Mr. Obayashi the opportunity to make short commercials. The result was a series of trippy ads, some featuring Western movie stars.
One in particular has become the stuff of legend. Two-minute long and invoking soft pornography, it stars Charles Bronson, who was popular in Japan after his film “Once upon a time in the West” (1968) was filmed, ripping his shirt and delving into a perfume called Mandom.
Mr. Obayashi’s wife, Kyoko, started out as an actress and played a small role in “House”, but later became his producer. Their daughter, Chigumi, invented the story which was transformed into “House” (“Hausu” in Japan). Steven Spielberg also had something to do with this film, though inadvertently – Mr. Obayashi said that Toho Studios, which hired him to make a feature film about the strength of its popular television commercials, noted that ” Jaws’ by M. Spielberg (1975) was a huge success.
“They asked,” Do you have a movie that looks like sharks attacking humans? “”, He told the online magazine. Notebook in 2019. “And so I consulted my daughter Chigumi, and ‘Hausu’ was born.”
Mr. Obayashi has made over 40 films in all. His wife and daughter survive him.
His films have often been greeted with mixed reviews. For example, Mr. Richie was less attracted to “Sada” (1998), a reminder of the life of Sada Abe, the protagonist of the 1976 Nagisa Oshima film, “In the Realm of the Senses”.
“Obayashi’s strong point is generally his carefree attitude”, Mr. Richie wrote in a review, “but here, nonchalant carelessness becomes carelessness. Sada deserves much better. “
Mr. Obayashi, however, was all about difficult viewers. In 2014 interview with Tokyo Weekender, he admitted that he had not followed the usual practice of starting with a script and following its structure.
“The shooting is very random,” he said. “It’s almost like making a sculpture and removing small pieces and putting them back. This is the editing process. But what I’m doing is removing that little piece and putting it somewhere else and seeing what’s going on, maybe creating a little bump and then putting it back. “
“I call it” charming chaos, “” he said. “I want to communicate with the public, I want them to find their own way and get lost first and find their own way.”