Cinema Scope

Cruel Stories of Youth

In January of this year, Obayashi Nobuhiko’s Hanagatami surfaced on the streaming service MUBI, a year after its Rotterdam premiere and over four decades after the director’s debut feature Hausu (1977) hit Japanese cinemas. Such distribution details are worth noting because, despite a career of remarkable, enviable prolificacy, the 81-year-old Obayashi remains largely unknown outside his home country. Apart from Hausu’s belated North American run in 2010the foundation of its current cult status—almost none of his 40 or so features has received a proper stateside release. For most audiences in the US (and likely elsewhere), Obayashi’s career begins and ends with a film about a house that devours a group of schoolgirls.

Though this is perhaps just a quirk of history, it’s unfortunate all the same, as Obayashi’s body of work reveals an artistic practice of astonishing range and vigour. For English-language viewers, the director’s films are “available” mostly through the efforts of online cinephile devotees, which means that accessibility is limited, selections spotty, and transfer qualities highly variable. But even a brief exploratory foray is enough to make one speculate on connections and continuities that might exist were Obayashi regarded as a major figure of world cinema. For instance, (1986), a portrait of an Inland Sea town on the precipice of war, might lead a viewer to a heretofore unmapped bridge between the Japanese cinema of the ’30s and something as far-flung as Wes Anderson’s (2012), and cause one to marvel at outlying territories ripe for discovery. But one might also then think of jagged promontories and shallow coves destined to remain submerged by time and tide.

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