Film Review: LABYRINTH OF CINEMA (directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi)

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by Tony Frankel on November 5, 2021

in Film


Film freaks and American cinephiles, have I got a beautifully weird one for you. Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, who used the money he made doing ads to foment his inner indie spirit to create day-glo, bubblegum, psychedelic flicks like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and House, now returns to the subject of Japan’s history of warfare following the completion of his War Trilogy, which ended with Hanagatami. Completed before his death in 2016, Labyrinth of Cinema, newly released and spreading across the states in eye-popping glory, is indeed a riddle inside a mystery inside a conundrum. But it’s a fascinating, incredibly innovative and beautiful slog. This is one for the big screen, kids.

This uber-trippy pacifist film uses Japanese war movies at its center, movies which the director both spoofs and and reprimands within this phantasmagoria. I wish I could say there was a plot to piece this 3-hour marathon together, but we’re in a Hiroshima movie theater where three lads – a wannabe gangster, an avid film lover, and a cinema historian – go after the innocent 13-year-old Noriko, who somehow enters the Kinema’s movie screen like Woody Allen’s Alice, tapping and singing and starring in war movies herself. It’s all very meta. Just as we think this is about the glory of film as seen through the characters in a small movie theater as its about to shut down, it just becomes a strangely watchable Technicolor blur that requires exceptional endurance.

Obayashi (along with co-writers Kazuya Konaka and Tadashi Naito) has a lot to say here, using poetry by Chuya “Japan’s Rimbaud” Nakahara as a base point. But without that all-important narrative, we’re gonna be attacked by brilliant filmmaking and a lot of proselytizing about the good and bad effects of movies. From slap-happy musical to indictment of Hiroshima, samurais, dancers, cartoon characters, a philosophical time-traveling narrator with giant fish floating in his machine, and war scenes – it’s like an acid trip where you have to fill in the blanks.

Tiring? Maybe so. Yet I was frequently bewitched watching this digressive and, perhaps, self-indulgent saunter from a most avant-garde filmmaker who is releasing the great creative potential of his unconscious mind for the last time.

LABYRINTH OF CINEMA | Japan | 2019 | 179 min
continues to expand regionally in the US
see full list of regional dates at Crescendo including:
Los Angeles (Lumiere Cinema)

Tulsa (Circle Cinemas)
Vancouver , BC (Vancity Theater)
Nov 4- San Francisco (Roxie Theater)
Nov 5- New Orleans (Zeitgeist Theater), Seattle
Nov 7- Portland (Hollywood Theater), Dallas
Nov 7- Dallas (Texas Theater)
Nov 7- Vancouver, BC (Rio Theater)San Francisco- November 4
Nov 19 – New Orleans
Dec 12 – Cleveland
Dec 31- Houston

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