Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016, about three years before he finished “Labyrinth of Cinema,” a trippy anti-war drama about Japanese war films, which Obayashi recreates, parodies, and critiques in one film. length in the film. Or really, it’s one of the feature-length film marathons in Obayashi’s films since “Labyrinth of Cinema” took place at the all-night war film festival hosted by Setouchi Kinema, a small theater in Hiroshima that put on one last show before closing permanently.
The plot is simple enough to be irrelevant: three bright young things—the staunch film historian Hosuke (Takahito Hosoyamada), enthusiastic film buff Mario (Takuro Atsuki), and aspiring gangster Shigeru (Yoshihiko Hosoda)—pursue the chastity of 13-year-old Noriko. (Rei Yoshida) after he falls onto the screen of the film Setouchi Kinema, and becomes part of Obayashi’s unstable meta-narrative. You can tell that his death weighed on him just by watching “Labyrinth of Cinema,” his final film, his three-hour living testament, and his dazzling curtain call.
The setting of the film Hiroshima has given its personality since Onomichi, Hiroshima is director/co-writer/co-editor Obayashi’s hometown and also the main location for several of his films, including the 1983 bubblegum-psych fantasy “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” Obayashi is best known to American cinema as the director of the 1977 glo-day nightmare “House,” a fizzy horror fantasy that only became an international cause in 2009 after screening at the New York Asian Film Festival and several others noteworthy. program. In “Labyrinth of Cinema,” Obayashi (along with co-writers Kazuya Konaka and Tadashi Naito) tries to summarize what he learns and tries to convey through filming in film auto-criticism as seductive propaganda and a palliative empathy machine.
Obayashi uses cheap (but effective) green screen technology and computer graphics to dramatize simple anecdotes about filmmakers like John Ford and Yasujiro Ozu, which he tucks in between brutal and/or sentimental episodes about local war crimes and counter-cultural resistance. Obayashi sometimes quotes poetry, especially by Chuya “Japan’s Rimbaud” Nakahara. Sometimes, cartoon characters or samurai folk heroes (Musashi Miyamoto?!) steal a scene or two. Some characters, such as stand-in time-travel writer Fanta G (drummer Yukihiro Takahashi), speak of the film as a beautiful and essential lie that is first used as a balm and a distraction, and then also seen as a cornerstone to a brighter and brighter future. still unimaginable. You give Obayashi three hours of your time, and he’ll give you a huge headache.
You’ve probably watched “Labyrinth of Cinema” and wondered where this all came from. Like Obayashi’s latest war trilogy (2011-2017), and its many previous features—as well as short films and TV commercials—“Labyrinth of Cinema” constantly reminds you that this is a “Movie.” Before Obayashi’s film begins, the words “Movie” are usually displayed on the screen in a frame within a picture frame. So in “Labyrinth of Cinema“, Obayashi’s character is often reframed by a small circular frame inside the camera frame. Sometimes these images rotate on the screen, so that the characters on the left side of the screen are now turned upside down, or on the right, as if they were talking to themselves, the audience, and anyone else watching. Be Like a Rose.” “Labyrinth of Cinema” is a lot of movies.
Obayashi’s projects are instantly recognizable, given his usual combination of disbelief and fascination with film as an expression of wish fulfillment and nostalgia. So it’s no surprise that his views on the past—and cinematic imagery—never really turn out to be tantalizing in “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Cheerful naive characters get lost in the memories of their comforting, half-remembered friend, and never stop wondering why one thing must lead to another, and another, and another. They float on the screen, unaffected by the laws of gravity or physics and cannot hide in any photo booth quality background that surrounds them. The Obayashi characters half know and half hope that they will live to see the next scene, so they take the time to learn how to ride the tidal waves that keep breaking in Japanese history according to Nobuhiko Obayashi.
The “Labyrinth of Cinema” is deeply affecting, often beguiling, usually exhausting, and on, and on, and on. An indulgent rant from an innovative surrealist who is always sensitive and even suspicious of the impact of his own work—as a tool for advertising, political whitewashing, and purely sentimental indoctrination. As he walked out the door, Nobuhiko Obayashi made us wonder how he got from “Home” to here without losing faith in his humanity and art; I don’t know, but “Labyrinth of Cinema” still exists.