Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Visit from Nobuhiko Obayashi: "Complexe", Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast, "Emotion", and Hausu

Today in "projection": During the Q&A for Sunday night's film, I looked over my shoulder a couple of times to see Saturday night's guest, Guy Maddin, getting up, walking around, and sitting back down. I wondered if he was anywhere close to as impatient as I was, because my bladder was ready to explode but I was blocked in by people on both sides, including my least favorite Harvard Film Archive regulars

Nobuhiko Obayashi and company

I didn't get many good photos, because you're not supposed to be taking any, but I needed to get this one - Obayashi-sama (I believe that was the honorific used) in the center, the translator on the right, and the director's daughter Chigumi Obayashi on the left. She, famously, supplied the original story, which was basically a list of things that freaked her out, at the age of 11, and would become an experimental filmmaker in her teens based upon her father's encouragement.

The projector obscuring Mr. Obayashi was either a toy he received when he was three or a replica thereof - which, being three, he saw as a choo-choo train, causing a bit of damage. At the time, I found this story of this confusion an extended metaphor for how he just wouldn't answer the question someone asked, although I was a bit more charitable once I got home. The man clearly loves to talk about movies and his work, saying many times that his heart was 8mm even if his more commercial work was 35mm. He also mentioned that, for both of the features, he was trying to evoke silent cinema in the framing and presentation.

This was just a short visit to Boston before heading to New York for a much larger retrospective, which has one more weekend to go. If you're in that area, it's worth checking out. I'd advise the small soda, though, because that guy can talk.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 16mm)

One of Nobuhiko Obayashi's earliest creations as a cinema artist, "Complexe" feels like a young man having fun with the camera more than anything else, and is kind of a shame that more directors don't have things like this that are easily retrieved and examined. Abstract as it is you can see his joy at creating something very odd, even if you may have to split your own meaning.

If I was going to graft a narrative onto it, I'd say it's the filmmaker poking around a housing complex in a modern urban area and finding something missing - not necessarily objects, but slices of time. Much of the film is a sort of live-action stop-motion animation, time-lapse photography where each frame chosen creates the illusion of people moving while standing still or vice versa, creating some super-cool effects, as when a man seems to just flat through a row of trees like a ghost.

Aside from that, it's also very self-aware; Obayashi addresses the audience directly in voice-over, and the film opens and closes with various stills of the crew working (and the directorxs infant daughter, tangled in 8mm film). It feels almost like we watch them striking a set, and yet that still doesn't make the film feel completely unreal, despite the impossibility of what we've seen. It's almost as though Obayashi puts the audience directly on the boundary of an impossible documentary and an obvious construction, a nifty place to be.

Noyuki yamayuki umibe yuki (Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 35mm)

Like many in the audience for Nobuhiko Obayashi's Noyuki yamayuki umibe yuki (the English title of "Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast" was not on the print projected), all I had seen of the director's work was House, which re-emerged as a cult favorite a few years back, and as a result I spent some time watching it through that prism - how is it like House, how is it different? That's perhaps inevitable but unfair, as there is a fair chunk of time and work between the two, and this is in many ways a far more impressive work, less randomly strange but still eccentric, with a different sort of sting to its jokes.

This one is set during the Second World War, although the most obvious indicator of that in this particular town is that there aren't a whole lot of teenagers or young men around. Instead, kids like Sutaro Sudo (Yasufumi Hayashi), dressed in sailor's hat and always carrying binoculars and a book on monkey behavior, run around more or less unsupervised after school. His class has a new student, Sakae Ohsugi (Jun'ichiro Katagiri), a couple years older than the other kids and thus drawing the ire of the class's established bully Bon, the barber's son, leading Sudo to devise elaborate war games to prevent real violence from breaking out. The other boys also rapidly develop a crush on Sakae's pretty older half-sister O-Shouchan (Isako Washio), although she has an eye for raft-rider Yuta Hayami (Toshinori Omi). That pacifist may wind up in the Army anyway, even though O-Shouchan will soon have another reason for the pair to run away.

Those of us who primarily know Obayashi from House would not be surprised to connect the two films just by looking at them; though Bound for the Fields takes place in a less fanatical space and its color scheme is a bit more muted, it's still a vibrant world, more so than one might expect from a war-depleted time. It's a kid's-eye-view of things, though, and Sudo in particular still finds the world to be full of adventure and ready to be discovered. So the kids in his class wear distinctive outfits rather than uniforms, his parents are all wide, reassuring smiles - the father is even a doctor who can fix the sort of damage an active kids sustains right up - and his teacher is a goofball who is always running kind of funny. The last is probably because of an erection from the porn he keeps in his desk, but Sudo isn't thinking like that yet.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 16mm)

"That Dracula that we once knew" is a fun way to start off a short film, albeit one with relatively little Dracula-based content. Instead, it tells the story of Emi (Emi Tabata), a girl from the seashore who goes to the city and meets Sari (Sari Akasaka), a girl "just like her". They quickly become extremely close, with eyes on the same man while Sari's parents "out of a fairy tale" get interested in Emi. Of course, this being an Obayashi film which started with name-dropping Dracula, things will get odd at several points.

It's downright eccentric, with stop-motion/live-action bits and a duel that happily makes a point of leaving the cameramen in the shot because Obayashi's experimental films are as much about making movies as their subjects. This one strikes an unusually good balance there, making both its wispy story and unusual flourishes memorable in equal measure. It's genuinely funny and sweet, but shows Obayashi havinng fun with the form.

House (Hausu)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 35mm)

Was House the first modern cult movie rediscovery, rolled out with a concerted effort and branded as such, or the last to pop up in various places, acquire good word of mouth, and spread that way? Not that it really matters; it's not important that people enjoy something for the proper, authentic reasons, although there's no denying that the thrill of discovering something insane back in 1989 is no longer there, and to a certain extent, watching it now is kind of waiting for this or that weird thing to happen, checking it off a list.

It's still fun, though - Obayashi is doing crazy, vibrant things that are still highly amusing even on the third or fourth run-through. Having now been through repeated viewings, I find more moments where Gorgeous's jealousy of her step-mother hints at a certain instability that makes her merge with her mad, ghostly aunt, athough the randomness is just as visible.

Is it still fun? Sure, and there are lots of ways that it holds up. It's just never going to be the sort of cult film that gets better with repetition.

Full review (from 2009) on EFC.

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