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Nobuhiko Obayashi

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Nobuhiko Obayashi
Obayashi in 2019
Born(1938-01-09)9 January 1938
Died10 April 2020(2020-04-10) (aged 82)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, editor, film producer
Years active1960–2020
SpouseKyoko Obayashi[1][2]

Nobuhiko Obayashi (大林 宣彦, Ōbayashi Nobuhiko, 9 January 1938 – 10 April 2020) was a Japanese director, screenwriter and editor of films and television advertisements. He began his filmmaking career as a pioneer of Japanese experimental films[3][4] before transitioning to directing more mainstream media, and his resulting filmography as a director spanned almost 60 years. He is best known as the director of the 1977 horror film House, which has garnered a cult following. He was notable for his distinct surreal filmmaking style, as well as the anti-war themes commonly embedded in his films.[5]

Early life[edit]

Obayashi (right) with Tamio Mori (left) at the Honolulu Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2012
Obayashi at the 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival

Obayashi was born on 9 January 1938 in the city of Onomichi, Japan.[6] After his father, a doctor,[5] was called to the battlefront during World War II, he was raised in his early infancy by his maternal grandparents. Through his childhood and adolescence, Obayashi followed many artistic pursuits, including drawing, writing, playing the piano, and possessed a growing interest in animation and film. He made his first 8 mm film in 1944 at the age of 6, the hand-drawn animated short Popeye's Treasure Island.[7][8][9]


1955–1977: Early career and House[edit]

In 1955 Obayashi, at the urging of his father, began procedures to enter medical school and become a physician. However, he abandoned the prospect of a career in medicine in favor of following his artistic interests at Seijo University.[10] In 1956 he was accepted to the university's liberal arts department, where he began to work with 8 and 16 mm film.[11] Toward the end of his stay at the university Obayashi began working on a series of short experimental films. Together—with Takahiko Iimura, Yoichi Takabayashi, and Donald Richie—Nobuhiko Obayashi established the Japanese experimental-film group Film Independent, or "Japan Film Andepandan," who were awarded at the 1964 Knokke-Le-Zoute Experimental Film Festival [fr].[12] Along with works by other filmmakers such as Shuji Terayama and Donald Richie, Obayashi's films would develop the tone of Japanese experimental cinema through the 1960s. In these early experimental films Obayashi employed a number of avant-garde techniques that he would carry into his later mainstream work. Though these films tended to be of a personal nature, they received public viewership due to distribution by the Art Theatre Guild.

Following his departure from university, Obayashi continued to work on his experimental films. Dentsu, a TV commercial project in Japan looking for new talent, asked members of Film Independents if they would like to direct commercials; Obayashi was the only one from the group to accept the offer, and thus began earning a living as a director in the new field of television advertisements.[13] Obayashi's TV commercials had a visual appeal similar to that of his experimental works. In the 1970s he began a series of Japanese ads featuring well-known western stars such as Kirk Douglas, Charles Bronson and Catherine Deneuve.[14] During the course of his career, Obayashi directed around 3,000 television commercials.[15] He made his feature film directorial debut with the horror film House, released in 1977.[3][16] The film employed a mixture of trick photography and avant-garde techniques to achieve its distinctive, surreal visuals, and has gone on to be considered a cult classic.[17] It earned Obayashi the Blue Ribbon Award for Best New Director.[18]

1980s–2010s: Further mainstream success[edit]

Through the 1980s and onwards Obayashi continued to make feature films and broadened his mainstream appeal. He directed a number of coming-of-age films such as I Are You, You Am Me (1982), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (1983), and Lonely Heart (1985)—which together form his "Onomichi trilogy", named after the town where he was born[10][19]—as well as Chizuko's Younger Sister (1991).

His 1988 film The Discarnates was entered into the 16th Moscow International Film Festival.[20] His 1998 film Sada, based on the true story of Sada Abe, was entered into the 48th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize for "its unique combination of innovative style and human observation."[16][21]

In 2016, Obayashi was diagnosed with stage-four terminal cancer[1][14] and was only given a few months to live.[22] Despite this, he started production on Hanagatami, a passion project of his which had been over 40 years in the making.[23] The film was released in 2017 and was met with acclaim, winning prizes such as the Best Film Award at the 72nd Mainichi Film Awards.[24] It is the third installment in a thematic trilogy of modern anti-war films by Obayashi, along with Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012) and Seven Weeks (2014).

He shot and edited his final film, titled Labyrinth of Cinema, while receiving cancer treatment.[14] Labyrinth of Cinema premiered at the 2019 Tokyo International Film Festival.[25]


Obayashi died on 10 April 2020 at the age of 82,[2][15][26][27][28] from lung cancer in Tokyo.[1][29] His family held a funeral for him at a temple in Tokyo on 13 April.[30]


Partial filmography[edit]

Year Film Director Writer Producer Editor Notes Ref(s)
1944 Popeye's Treasure Island Yes Short film; 8 mm film [8]
1945 The Stupid Teacher Yes Short film; 8 mm [8]
1957 Youth Clouds Yes Short film; 8 mm [8]
1958 The Girl in the Picture Yes Short film; 8 mm [8]
1964 Complexe Yes Yes Yes Yes Short film; Obayashi's first 16 mm film [33]
1966 Emotion Yes Yes Short film; 16 mm [34]
1968 Confession Yes Short film; 16 mm [35]
1977 House Yes Yes Yes Yes Also special effects director [36]
The Visitor in the Eye Yes Also appears as an actor [27]
1978 Furimukeba Ai Yes Also known as Take Me Away! [37]
1979 The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi Yes [38]
1981 School in the Crosshairs Yes [28]
1982 I Are You, You Am Me Yes Also known as Exchange Students [10][19]
1982 Lovely Devils Yes [39]
1983 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Yes Yes [27][40]
1983 Legend of the Cat Monster Yes [41]
1983 Lover Comeback To Me Yes [42]
1984 The Deserted City Yes Yes [27]
Kenya Boy Yes Yes Obayashi's only animated film[9] [27]
The Island Closest to Heaven Yes [35]
1985 Lonely Heart Yes [10][19][27]
Four Sisters Yes [43]
1986 His Motorbike, Her Island Yes Yes [44]
Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast Yes [45]
1987 The Drifting Classroom Yes Yes Yes [27]
1988 The Discarnates Yes [27]
1989 Beijing Watermelon Yes [14][46]
1991 Chizuko's Younger Sister Yes Yes [47][48]
1992 The Rocking Horsemen Yes [35]
1993 Haruka, Nostalgia Yes [35]
Samurai Kids Yes Yes Yes [49]
1994 Turning Point Yes Yes [14][27][50]
1995 Goodbye for Tomorrow Yes [51]
1998 Sada Yes Yes [28][52][53]
I Want to Hear the Wind's Song Yes Yes [27]
1999 That Guy Yes Yes [27]
2002 The Last Snow Yes Yes [27]
2004 The Reason Yes [27]
2006 Song of Goodbye Yes [35]
2007 Switching - Goodbye Me Yes [35]
2008 Scenery to Remember Yes [35]
2012 Casting Blossoms to the Sky Yes Yes Yes [10][54]
2014 Seven Weeks Yes Yes Yes [27][55]
2017 Hanagatami Yes Yes Yes [14][24][56]
2019 Labyrinth of Cinema Yes Yes Yes Yes Final film [14][25][27]


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  2. ^ a b c "Nobuhiko Obayashi, Prolific Japanese Film Director, Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter. 10 April 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b Dargis, Manohla (14 January 2010). "7 Frightened Teenagers in Nobuhiko Obayashi's First Feature". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  4. ^ Schilling, Mark (31 October 2019). "Nobuhiko Obayashi: A life spent working among Japan's movie greats". The Japan Times. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  5. ^ a b Kageyama, Yuri (27 October 2019). "Obayashi's 40-film career defined by warning of war's horror". ABC News. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  6. ^ Federation of Motion Picture Producers in Asia 1989: "Nobuhiko Obayashi was born January 9, 1983, the so [sic] of a doctor, in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan."
  7. ^ わが偏愛の大林映画:上)キッチュとノスタルジーの魅力 [My Especially Beloved Obayashi Films: the Charm and Appeal of Kitsch and Nostalgia]. The Asahi Shimbun (in Japanese). 17 April 2020. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e 大林宣彦 フィルモグラフィ [Nobuhiko Obayashi Filmography] (PDF) (in Japanese). Ueda City Multimedia Information Center. 1999. p. 4. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  9. ^ a b Hal Young (May 2021). "Obayashi, Nobuhiko". Senses of Cinema (98). Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d e Blair, Gavin J. (17 July 2019). "Auteur Nobuhiko Obayashi to Be Showcased at Tokyo Film Fest". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  11. ^ Federation of Motion Picture Producers in Asia 1989: "After moving to Tokyo and entering Seijo University, he started making 8 mm films as 'art.' After filming a number of documentaries and dramas, he switched to 16 mm."
  12. ^ Ross, Julian (30 September 2010). "Interview: Takahiko Iimura'". Midnight Eye. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  13. ^ Suzuki, Namiki (January 2010). "Interview with Nobuhiko Obayashi". EIGAGOGO. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
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  15. ^ a b Schilling, Mark (10 April 2020). "Nobuhiko Obayashi Japanese Director Dead at 82". Variety. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
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  20. ^ "16th Moscow International Film Festival (1989)". Moscow International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 16 March 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Berlinale: 1998 Programme". Berlinale.de. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  22. ^ Collin, Robbie (29 October 2017). "Tokyo Film Festival – Hanagatami, review: Nobuhiko Obayashi's latest is like nothing else around". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  23. ^ Masubuchi, Aiko (24 January 2019). "Working for Tomorrow: An Interview with Nobuhiko Obayashi on Notebook". MUBI. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  24. ^ a b "'Hanagatami' wins top prize at 72nd Mainichi Film Awards". Mainichi Daily News. 18 January 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  25. ^ a b Young, Deborah (5 November 2019). "'Labyrinth of Cinema': Film Review | Tokyo 2019". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  26. ^ "映画監督の大林宣彦氏、82歳で死去 肺がんで余命3か月の宣告から3年8か月". Yahoo! Japan. 11 April 2020. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
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  29. ^ "Film director Obayashi dies in Tokyo of lung cancer at 82". The Asahi Shimbun. 11 April 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  30. ^ "大林宣彦監督の妻・恭子さんがコメント発表「『皆さん、ありがとう』を監督の遺言としてお伝え致します」". Sponichi Annex. 14 April 2020. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  31. ^ "秋の叙勲、森山元法相ら4024人に". Yomiuri Shimbun. 3 November 2009. Archived from the original on 5 November 2009. Retrieved 4 November 2009.
  32. ^ Kim, Allen (29 October 2019). "'Mario Bros.' creator Shigeru Miyamoto to be given one of Japan's highest honors". CNN. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  33. ^ "Complexe - Nobuhiko Obayashi - The Film-Makers' Cooperative". The Film-Makers' Coop. 22 October 1964. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  34. ^ Hudson, David (13 April 2020). "Beyond House: Nobuhiko Obayashi". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  35. ^ a b c d e f g "Obayashi Nobuhiko". International Film Festival Rotterdam. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  36. ^ Galbraith IV 1996, p. 219.
  37. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 312.
  38. ^ Ôbayashi, Nobuhiko (14 July 1979), Kindaichi Kosuke no boken (Comedy, Crime, Mystery), Kadokawa Haruki Jimusho, retrieved 24 February 2022
  39. ^ Ôbayashi, Nobuhiko (10 August 1982), Kawaii Akuma (Drama, Horror), Nippon-TV, retrieved 24 February 2022
  40. ^ Galbraith IV 1996, p. 397.
  41. ^ Ôbayashi, Nobuhiko (30 August 1983), Reibyo densetsu (Horror), Nippon Television Network (NTV), Tsuburaya Eizo, retrieved 24 February 2022
  42. ^ Lover Comeback To Me (1983), retrieved 24 February 2022
  43. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 346.
  44. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 349.
  45. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 44.
  46. ^ Variety's Film Reviews 1989-1990. R.R. Bowker. 1991. ISBN 9780835230896. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  47. ^ O'Hara, Kate (compiler) (21 October 1991). Kosner, Edward (ed.). "Movies: Theater Guide". New York. Vol. 24, no. 41. New York Media, LLC. p. 128. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  48. ^ Galbraith IV 1996, p. 135.
  49. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 383.
  50. ^ Sloan, Jane (2007). Reel Women: An International Directory of Contemporary Feature Films about Women. Scarecrow Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0810857384.
  51. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 391.
  52. ^ Sharp 2008, p. 190.
  53. ^ Bowyer, Justin (2004). The Cinema of Japan and Korea. Wallflower Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-1904764120.
  54. ^ Masangkay, May (16 August 2017). "Filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi devotes himself to a message of peace via the big screen". The Japan Times. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  55. ^ Lee, Maggie (9 June 2015). "Film Review: 'Seven Weeks'". Variety. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  56. ^ Young, Deborah (22 June 2018). "'Hanagatami': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2020.


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