Nobuhiko Ôbayashi is a pioneering figure whose works have enjoyed a seminal influence on the landscape of experimental cinema in Japan. Celebrated by audiences all over the world for his surreal cinematic experiments, Ôbayashi has established himself as a bonafide cult filmmaker whose masterpieces like House continue to be enjoyed by newer generations of viewers.
As is the case with most artists who grew up around the time of the Second World War, the horrors and atrocities of the war had a profound impact on Ôbayashi. This experience also clearly influenced his artistic vision which is evident from his anti-war commentary in many of his works. According to the filmmaker, confronting your mortality at the age of seven can change anyone.
In an interview, Ôbayashi reflected: “In my life, the most important thing is that I was a military boy during the war. I believed that if Japan lost the war, an adult will be kind enough to kill me. If Japan lost, we were supposed to kill ourselves. But at seven years old, the idea of holding a sword and stabbing my own body felt frightening and I couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to die.”
Adding, “I don’t optimistically believe in happy endings. Watch a sci-fi movie and they all conclude with the end of the world. Humans predict somewhere that with prosperity comes extinction. It’s just about when that will happen. When I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, I thought that the earth still has a long time to go, but it’s only been half a century and we’re already at a place of uncertainty.”
For this week’s edition of Short of the Week, we have chosen a particularly enigmatic 1966 work by Ôbayashi which resists any categorisations. Titled Emotion, it follows the dream-like adventure of a young girl who embarks on a journey from a coastal village to a big city only to encounter the spectres of modernity in the form of vampires.
“In the 20th century, humans brought military technology into the fight and accelerated us much closer to the end,” Ôbayashi insisted. “The movies are part of this technology. Movies are different in that way from art that came before. It’s a destructive art. And to believe in happy endings using a destructive art is basically an act of desperation.”
Watch Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s beautifully impenetrable 1966 short Emotion in its entirety below.