Nobuhiko Obayashi, the prolific director who mixed generous amounts of arthouse and humor into classics like 1977's ghost story House (Hausu), died this past Friday, at age 82, according to Variety. The Japanese filmmaker had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016, not long after celebrating the largest retrospective of his work ever assembled in the U.S., in 2015 at New York's Japan Society.
Deadline reports that his latest film, Labyrinth of Cinema, was set to premiere on April 10, the day of his death, but had to be postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The announcement of his passing on the website for this film makes reference to the significance of that coincidence, for a man whose life had been defined by his film releases for decades. The announcement reads:
Director Obayashi fought his sickness to the day of the scheduled release of his film. Rest in peace, director Obayashi, you who loved films so much you kept on making them.
Obayashi was also a well-known pacifist, a worldview that informed his whole body of work. In the promo below for his 2015 retrospective, he makes clear how his use of humor serves a higher cause, saying, "When you watch a movie, instead of frowning like this, everybody's face becomes gentle and childlike. If we all laugh together, the world will become peaceful."
Born in Onomichi, Japan in 1938, Obayashi's first films were made as a child with 8mm equipment given to him by his father. He went on to direct more than 3,000 television commercials starring the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Charles Bronson. Hausu, his dreamscape ghost tale of a group of teenage girls' ill-fated excursion to a ghostly aunt's house, was his feature debut. His distinct mix of humor, horror, and fantasy would later come to be cherished by fans of directors like Sam Raimi, though Raimi's films don't nearly approximate (nor even try to) the artful, painting-like visuals of Obayashi's cult classic.
Many of his 1980s films, with titles like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, part of a trilogy shot in his native Onomichi, explored fantasy and sci-fi themes, while his last two films, this year's Labyrinth of Cinema and 2017's Hanagatami, returned to the antiwar messages he also held dear.