Despite over 40 directing credits to his name since the late 70s and a consistently unique artistic vision, Nobuhiko Ohbayashi is best (and pretty much only) known stateside for his 1977 debut feature House[Hausu]. Marked by zanily amateurish production values that could only have arisen from a competent and imaginative professional, this haunted house film was originally conceived by Ohbayashi’s seven-year-old daughter who, if I remember correctly, was 11 by the time the film was actually made. Praised by connoisseurs of oddball cinema for its lo-tech visual effects and anarchic approach to the basics of filmmaking, House is truly Ohbayashi’s best work as well as one of the greatest party movies out there. A non-subtitled bootleg floated around for decades until the Criterion Collection’s spiffy Blu-ray and DVD releases in late 2010.
The only other Ohbayashi film that has been released to DVD in the U.S. is 1998’s Sada [Sada: Gesaku Abe Sada no shogai], yet another retelling of the story of celebrity castrator Sada Abe (the same character featured in director Nagisa Oshima’s highly praised In the Realm of the Senses ). Ohbayashi’s version unfolds like a conventional biopic and is thus a world away from the claustrophobic challenge that is In the Realm…
A filmmaker since the age of six, Ohbayashi made a name for himself with some experimental shorts in the mid-60s that were distributed by the prestigious Art Theater Guild (the production company responsible for just about every important Japanese counterculture film at that time). He followed the success of House with a series of high school-based films that include 1981’s School in the Crosshairs [Nerawareta gakuen], screened last night as part of Unknown Japan, and 1983’s popular adaptation of writer Yasutaka Tsutsui’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (later “adapted” in animation form by Madhouse in 2006). Many of his films from this period and on into the 90s were set in his hometown of Onomichi (Hiroshima prefecture) and featured supernatural themes that never equaled the thrills of his 1977 debut. Ohbayashi went on to tackle social issues in a series of mainstream films that he continues to direct today; the 74-year-old recently finished shooting the upcoming drama Flowers in the Sky: The Story of Nagaoka Fireworks [Kono sora no hana: Nagaoka hanabi monogatari].
Ohbayashi has also directed several commercials throughout his career, the most notable of which have to be the Charles Bronson MANDOM ads.
On Wednesday, February 15 at 7:00 PM we’ll be hosting a very rare screening of The Spiders Go Forward! (1967) with English subtitles. The Spiders were one of the most popular “Group Sounds” bands of the late 1960s; expect Help!-esque goofiness and heaps of pop music performances. Official site.