Nobuhiko Obayashi’s epic statement on the horror of war and movie magic

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The no longer ultra From the work of Japanese maverick Nobuhiko Obayashi as a surrealist and ardent anti-war advocate, cult director “House” ‘s dizzying and often dazzling latest feature is told through the adventures of four young people who are magically transported into the films themselves. Opening with a tumultuous bombardment of sounds and images that risks confusing and losing some viewers while sending others in rapturous rapture, “Labyrinth of Cinema” then gives meaning to chaos and emerges as

It’s a bit of a miracle that the “Cinema Labyrinth” exists. After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2016, Obayashi completed “Hanagatami” (2017), the final chapter in his anti-war trilogy which included “Casting Blossoms to the Sky” (2012) and “Seven Weeks”. ” (2014). Defying a prognosis that left him only a few months to live, Obayashi then co-wrote, directed and co-edited this three-hour feature film while undergoing treatment. He survived to see his world premiere at the 2019 Tokyo Film Festival before passing away on April 10, 2020, at the age of 82. Ironically, the film was originally slated to hit theaters that day, before the pandemic forced a postponement.

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Obayashi’s final declaration comes out of the blocks with an energy and urgency that never diminishes. The first thing viewers hear is a group of enthusiastic narrators reading credits such as the names of production companies as they appear on screen. “Our wish for peace in the world resulted in this fascinating film,” they explain. In the first of countless wacky tangents, non-sequences and waves of consciousness to come, these narrators even send a happy hello to “our dear movie friend Hinton Battle”, who was unable to appear due to scheduling conflicts. in the us

Obayashi sets the scene at Setouchi Kinema, a former cinema in his coastal hometown Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. The Palace of the Image has decided to close its doors forever and is going out with a nightly marathon of Japanese war films. The program begins with accounts of the Boshin Civil War of 1868-69, followed by the Russo-Japanese and Sino-Japanese conflicts, before moving on to the tragic events of World War II.

As a fierce storm hits the building, an exceptional crowd sets in for the show. In the audience are three young men: Hosuke (Takahito Hosoyamada), a serious film historian; Shigeru (Yoshihiko Hosoda), the son of a monk who wants to become a yakuza; and Mario Baba (Takuro Atsuki), a healthy, bright-eyed movie buff – who are carried away in the movies and sent through Japanese history. Noriko (Rei Yoshida, newbie), a teenage girl who says she doesn’t know anything about life or war and comes to the movies to learn.

In a film brimming with autobiographical references and echoes to Obayashi’s earlier work, Noriko recalls the spirited young heroines of her time travel hit “The Little Girl Who Conquered Time” (1983) and the winner of the teen body swap comedy “I Are You, Tu es moi” (1982). It’s a dizzying race for Noriko and the boys as they go from samurai dramas to fighting to the death during the invasion of Manchuria before landing in Okinawa and finally arriving in Hiroshima.

More than just spectators from another time, the quartet arrive at each destination in proper period costumes with matching make-up and hairstyle, as if fate had drafted them into active service as performing artists. and observers. As they walk in and out of the films, each character reflects on what they have seen and heard as they witness the devastating impact of war. Hosuke, who keeps scribbling in his notebook, offers an intellectual perspective, while Shigeru takes a cynical perspective. Mario, who has fallen in love with Noriko, sees things with romantic and hopeful eyes.

The intruder is Noriko. Unlike her time travel and film companions, she takes on multiple roles and inhabit many different dimensions in a cinematic landscape that seems to be dreaming of and adding new layers when and when she feels the need. Every image and sound here is open to a number of interpretations, including the idea that Noriko is a symbol of Japanese innocence, suffering, and hope. Shortly after our first meeting with Noriko, she appears as Zashikiwarashi, a spirit creature associated with fortune. At another early stage, it bounces back as part of a recreation of the colorful musicals made in post-war Japan as it sought to recover from humiliation and devastation. “Movies are dreams, dreams are movies, it’s a wonderful world,” she sings, before a close-up of her beaming smile hangs in the Setouchi Kinema projector and catches fire – much like Hiroshima in later sequences featuring Noriko in an alternate guise.

An alien named Fanta G watches over everything, performed with a beatnik-cool look and style by legendary Japanese musician and occasional actor Yukihiro Takahashi. First seen in a spaceship with giant goldfish floating around it, the laid-back visitor tells us that “the movies are a cutting edge time machine.” After taking a seat in the theater, Fanta G appears frequently to educate viewers about Japanese history and cinema, offering thoughts such as “tap dancing is the basis of human dignity.”

Obayashi leaves almost no idea unexplored and no unsaid statement on this ride in his mind, heart and soul. With a voiceover, textual information and frequent quotations from poets, including Chuya Nakahara (the “Japanese Rimbaud” who wrote “they call it modernization, I call it barbarism” while observing the military and industrial rise of the country. Japan 100 years ago), Obayashi pleads with the film’s audiences and those watching for real not to be passive observers when watching war films for entertainment. Also in the “lie” of war-recreating films is the historical truth of the armed conflict and the very real pain and loss it has caused.

Obayashi wants us to take inspiration from the artificiality of cinema and use it to actively work for a war-free future. He emphasizes this point by filming much of his recreated war movies – and pretty much everything else for that matter – with green screen work and deliberately slap-dash special effects that sometimes give the impression of an early 1980s student video project. At other times, it pulls out all the stops with beautifully photographed romantic interludes (by Hisaki Sanbongi) and footage set in war brothels that are performed with all the saturated color and sweaty atmosphere of the entrances at the rougher end of the Pinky Violence exploitation genre.

Obayashi’s idealistic belief in the power of cinema includes references to the wartime work and life of Japanese masters such as Yasujiro Ozu (Makoto Tezuka) and Sadao Yamanaka (Isshin Inudo), who died tragically young in 1938 after having was drafted to fight in Manchuria. Frank Capra gets a commendation, and Obayashi gives himself a cute little cameo as great American filmmaker John Ford. While some of these detours don’t add much to the overall picture, they remain true to Obayashi’s grand plan of not ruling out anything that may be important to him during this inspired outpouring.

While never less than stimulating, “Labyrinth of Cinema” may be too fractured in its narrative and too overloaded with information to fully engage audiences unfamiliar with pre-1940 Japanese history. No one needs a degree. in history to approach this film, but basic knowledge is a distinct advantage. After 90 frantic minutes, Obayashi slows the pace very slightly and highlights many of the film’s seemingly random elements as the story unfolds in the events of Okinawa and Hiroshima during the latter stages of WWII.

The shocking sacrifice of civilians and soldiers on the paradise island of Okinawa is superbly depicted. In deeply moving scenes, Mario and his friends meet Sadao Maruyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka), leader of the famous Sakura theater group, who was devastated in the explosion of the Hiroshima A-bomb. We are used to seeing movies in which characters from the future try to change the events of the past. This storyline has rarely had the same emotional impact as when Mario, Hosuke, and Shigeru desperately try to keep Maruyama and his players from knowing their terrible fate.

But nothing can stop Obayashi from bringing things to a magical and musical end, with some inspiration from Stanley Kubrick aiding his unbridled and unashamedly idealistic imagination.

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