LABYRINTH OF CINEMA – A Review by Cynthia Flores
This trippy, just-one-minute-under-three-hour-long film is in Japanese with English subtitles. It deserves to be this long because it’s the final film of director Nobuhiko Obayashi. He passed in April of 2020, after having had an illustrious career spanning almost sixty years. He started as a pioneer of Japanese experimental films before transitioning to directing more mainstream media. Labyrinth of Cinema finds the late director returning to the subject of Japan’s history of warfare following the completion of his “War Trilogy,” which ended with Hanagatami.
In this film, we are greeted by a literally “out of this world” narrator named Lt. Sako (Tadanobu Asano), who explains that he is revisiting earth. He does this in a shiny spaceship while eating a sushi roll and conversing with talking Koi fish floating around him. He eats a lot during this movie, and I did tell you this was a trippy film. He visits an old movie theater from his childhood in Onomichi (the seaside town of director Obayashi’s youth where he shot nearly a dozen films). This is the last night it will be open. The old woman that owns and runs it is retiring. In tribute, she screens an all-night marathon of Japanese war films. (Note, if you ever wanted a cheat sheet of all the wars in Japan, then this is the film for you). A regular customer comes each night. Her name is Noriko (Rei Yoshida); she is seen in black and white when the movie starts, even though everyone else is in color. You have to make it to the very end before you find out why.
When lightning strikes the theater, three young men are transported into the world onscreen. They all love war movies but have never experienced a war themselves. By becoming players in the different films about several actual wars, they experience the brutality first-hand. As they march through time, they grow up a bit. Each falling in love with women stuck in the battles with them. All while trying to save Noriko or versions of her, they meet.
Lt. Sako’s daughter Keiko (Takako Tokiwa) joins him on the balcony of the movie theatre. She helps him narrate the different wars the young men are stuck in. They ultimately ended up in Hiroshima one day before the American atomic bomb was dropped.
This film is interlaced with poems that complement the wild and accurate journey through Japan’s past. Director Obayashi used every trick in his imaginative book to create a visually glittering anti-war epic. With this film, he urges us to consider cinema as a means to change history. You can catch him as the old man at the piano, playing dissonant cords as a spirit of good fortune watches on.
I give Labyrinth of Cinema a 4-star rating. It’s a fitting end to a man that believed one should “Live Freely. That is the proof of peace.” To all his fans, I join in thanking him for sharing his dreams and how he saw the world with us.
Directed by: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi (House)
Written by: Kazuya Konaka, Tadashi Naitô, Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Selig Rating: 4 Stars
Running Time: 179 min
Limited Theatrical Release: November 5th Dallas Texas Theater
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Takuro Atsuki, Takahito Hosoyamada, Yoshihiko Hosoda, Rei Yoshida, Riko Narumi, Hirona Yamazaki, Takako Tokiwa
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.