Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Japan Cuts ’20: Seijo Story

Nobuhiko Obayashi was the mad genius behind House (and the sensitive auteur who helmed many other great Japanese films). Kyoko Obayashi is the producer (and den mother and caterer) who helped make them possible. As their names suggest, they were also happily married for over sixty years. Isshin Inudo & Eiki Takahashi profile the Obayshis and document the post-production work on their final ambitious collaboration in Seijo Story: 60 Years of Making Films, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film (all virtual this year).

Seijo is to Tokyo a lot like what Studio City is to Los Angeles, but it is also home to a first-class university. That is where the Obayashis met as undergrads and collaborated on their first 8mm films. He somewhat logically decided his emerging talents as novelist and musician made him best suited to be a film director. She used her organizational skill to support his films. At first, she refused all credit, but eventually she has been duly recognized as a top producer.

As a filmmaker, Obayashi has helmed celebrity commercials, experimental films, coming-of-age dramas, and unclassifiable genre films. Initially,
House was a flop, but in recent years, it has become a smash hit at midnight screenings. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it now. Yet, he is the first to admit their films have been a team effort.

There are no great dramas or revelations in
Seijo Story, but it really is a heartwarming portrait of a lifetime romance. They truly come across as a wonderfully sweet and modest couple, who remain deeply in love. Inudo & Takahashi also trace the autobiographical sources for many of their films. For fans of their work, especially the nostalgic body-switch movie, I Are You, You Am Me (set in his sunny seaside hometown, Onomichi), Seijo Story is a lovely celebration of their lives and legacy. However, for those unfamiliar with their oeuvre, it is very nice, but will not have as much meaning.

So, warm fuzzies all around—and why not? Nobuhiko and Kyoko Obasyashi both deserved their late-career acclaim, so it is good and fitting that Inudo & Takahashi supplied their final ovation. They had intimate access and created an affectionate tribute. Recommended for fannish cineastes,
Seijo Story screens virtually through July 30th, as part of the 2020 Japan Cuts.