Acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi—best known outside of Japan for his 1978 pop-art fantasy / horror film HOUSE (aka HAUSU)—will be making a rare trip to New York City this week for several film screenings and the launch of a new exhibition / film series at the Museum of Modern Art. Accompanying him will be his family, including daughter Chigumi, who was responsible for writing the original story for HOUSE, when she was only 14 years old!
This blog entry aims to collect all the information about his visit
in one place. Please share it and spread the word!
Obayashi (or OB, as he's frequently called) is one of those rare filmmakers who has worked comfortably in both the art-house and commercial areas of his field. Beginning his work as an 8mm and 16mm filmmaker in the 1960s, Obayashi was soon requested by various companies in Japan to shoot commercials for them, due to his expertise in telling a visual story in only a matter of minutes. While criticized by some of his contemporaries because of his supposed abandonment of "art" for a more money-oriented area of filmmaking, his commercials are remarkably original and creative, and through them OB was able to work with international stars of the time like Charles Bronson (most notably in his famous series of spots for "Mandom" cologne), Sophia Loren, David Niven, Catherine Deneuve, ZATOICHI star Shintaro Katsu, and many others, not to mention the young idols who would later populate his feature films.
In 1978, Obayashi was given his first opportunity to make a feature film
by film studio Toho, and the result was the much-loved HOUSE, which was
released several years ago on Blu-ray and DVD
by The Criterion Collection. (You can learn the full story of OB's
struggle to create the film and its subsequent rise to fame in the
documentary that accompanies the disc, as well
as the liner notes.)
His work continued through the 1990's in various genres, including some extraordinary work for TV, and he's still at it. His latest film, about a local fireworks festival and lingering feelings about the Hiroshima bombing, CASTING BLOSSOMS TO THE SKY, was released earlier this year.
Here's the full schedule of his appearances at the present moment. We are still working to secure a special screening of HOUSE for OB to attend, but it's as yet unconfirmed.
New York's Japan Society brings some of the most iconic films from three legendary, dangerous beauties of Japanese cinema to their theatre next month, in the series with the $10 title: Mad, Bad... and Dangerous to Know - Three Untamed Beauties. More information is online here.
First up is Ayako Wakao, pictured above, a frequent muse for filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura. And in fact, four Masumura films will be screened in late March / early April featuring Wakao: Seisaku's Wife, A Wife Confesses, the astonishing Red Angel, and the most dangerous of them all, Irezumi (The Spider Tattoo).
En route for what promises to be a very busy, hopefully very productive trip. I've been asked to serve as a jury member at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in Hokkaido, which is the start of the trip, and there are a lot of meetings and work scheduled for my Tokyo stay afterward. So much, in fact, that the trip will probably have to be extended.
Nobuhiko Obayashi's HOUSE (Hausu) opened last Friday at New York's IFC Center, and reports are that audience turnout has been fantastic. Here are links to some of the more prominent reviews from its opening weekend.
After New York, the new 35mm print travels to Nashville for a week's run at the Belcourt Theatre, then on to Portland and Cinema 21. The restored HD master screened at last year's New York Asian Film Festival will be simultaneously playing some dates during the same period, hitting some Florida cinemas between January 22nd and 28th, and heading off to Washington, D.C., for a run at the Turnage Theater on two successive weekends next month.
Full details of the tour can be found here, on the Janus Films HOUSE web sub-page. You can also get yourself a nifty HOUSE t-shirt there, like the one seen above, modeled by director Obayashi himself.
In honor of the U.S. opening—after nearly 33 years!—of Nobuhiko Obayashi's brilliant horror hybrid HOUSE (aka HAUSU), here is the complete Variety review of the film from 1977. I think it betrays a still-ongoing prejudice against popular Asian cinema in its assumption that the mixed genres might be a mistake or fortuitous accident on the part of the filmmaker. Can you imagine a legitimate film critic asking the same thing about a film by Luis Buñuel or or Jean-Luc Godard? (For comparison, check out the great, recent reviews from The L Magazine and Time Out NY.)
HOUSE opens tomorrow, Friday January 15th, at Manhattan's IFC Center, and its newly-struck, English-subtitled 35mm print plays there for a week before moving to locations across the U.S. and Canada in the spring and early summer. Catch it while you can! Oh, and here's the trailer. House(Japanese-Color) Tokyo, Sept. 13 
A Toho release. Features entire cast. Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Produced by Nobuhiko Obayashi and Norihiko Yamada. Screenplay, Chiho Katsura; camera, Yoshihisa Sakamoto; art director, Kazuo Satsuya; editor, Nobuo Oawa; music, Asei Kobayashi and Miki Yoshino; asst. director, Yasuhira Oguri. Reviewed at the Chiyoda Gekijo, Tokyo, Aug. 26, '77. Running time: 87 MINS. Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Oba, Ai Matsubara, Miki Jinbo, Mieko Sato, Miyako Masayo, Eriko Tanaka, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasagawa, Haruko Wanibuchi [Note: they forgot Yoko Minamida, who plays the villainous Auntie!]
This is the first feature length film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and a very puzzling debut it is, too. Formerly a director of tv commercials, Obayashi is either a brilliant conscious satirist or a brilliant unconscious satirist; his "House" either an unintentionally funny compendium of the stylistic conventions of Japanese tube sell or an intentional send-up of those conventions.
The plot is a variation on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians." Seven young ladies spending their summer holidays in a spooky old house owned by a spooky old lady begin disappearing one by one.
Too often it appears Obayashi's only purpose in mounting this tale was self-promotion: seldom has a director used so many scenes to draw attention to his "cleverness." Still, beneath this superficial bravura, there are comic bits and snippets which almost, but do not quite, add up to an indictment of Japan's over-commercialization (i.e. its flood of sell copy.)
Whenever actress Haruko Wanibuchi appears on screen, she walks with the slow, exaggerated stride of a featured player in a 60-second spot for cosmetics, her hair and the scarf around her neck blown by a private breeze which touches no one near her. Among the unlucky seven young ladies are those who take as their nicknames the names of mass-produced food and drink. [Note: So that's where this error began! Only a couple of the girls have names that could conceivably be taken from food or drink names; in reality, the names just reflect their personalities.] The clothes of the main characters are often color coordinated with their patently unnatural pastel-shaded surroundings.
Still, questions nag. Was the director kidding? The dialog, as is the case with most air sell, is banal, but is it purposely banal? Background music, as is the case with most commercials, is insistent, but is its intrusiveness calculated or accidental?
Most cast members are either talented or pleasant to look at, or both. Top-billed Kimiko Ikegami has a marvelously changeable fashion model face and is capable of looking winsomely innocent or frighteningly mature for her age.
"House," a good indication of what this country's new generation of filmmakers is up to, will probably not do too well abroad. Too much of the film's humor is dependent upon a familiarity with Japanese media personalities, tv shows and movie series. --Bail.
No word yet on whether the film will get a limited theatrical release, like their earlier title ICHI did, or whether it will go straight to DVD. Here's hoping they do some festival screenings in the U.S. and Canada before releasing it to a more general audience, to build up some audience awareness and press exposure.