The final film by Nobuhiko Obayashi, Labyrinth of Cinema has the late director returning to the subject of Japan’s history of warfare. If Obayashi had only made one movie — and that movie was House — he would still be celebrated. This film brings his career — and life — full circle to a small movie theater in the seaside town where Obayashi shot a dozen films in his early. years.
During an all-night showing of war movies, lightning takes three men through a cinematic journey through Japan’s history of war and the sixty years of his career.
Shot and edited his final film while Obayashi was receiving cancer treatment, this film finds the artist recreating, commenting on and even making fun of Japan’s warrior cinematic history. The boys are trying to rescue Noriko, who has tumbled into the screen. but that’s just the story skeleton for Obayashi to hang his theme of cinema being at once a seducer and a source of empty promises.
There’s also a time traveler involved, frequent appearances of animation, remembrances of other directors and the title that reminds you out loud that this is a movie, not real, but a piece of filmed art to fall into yourself, explore and wonder about your place in the world, just as the creative genius that gave it birth did, staring at the end of his life.
Somehow, this movie makes three hours feel like three minutes. Were that all experiences were this filled with promise, with joy and with inspiration that maybe we can all retain our artistic ideals like its creator.