Labyrinth of Cinema is the invention of a highly imaginative and passionate filmmaker who will not settle for traditional conventions to teach a valuable lesson. In his final film, the late Nobuhiko Obayashi takes his audience on a journey to learn to reject Japan’s militarism, accept pacifism, and embrace the unifying power of cinema.
This three-hour-long magnus opus lives up to its title. This film is truly a labyrinth with every turn more confounding, exciting, and thrilling than one before. Every film technique or convention is deployed to maximize the whimsical way in which Obayashi tells this story about Japan’s chaotic history with war.
Residents of a small port town of Onomichi, Hiroshima gathers at a local theatre to witness its final showings. The owners decide to do an all-night screening of war films and this attracts a wild crowd of unique individuals. Four members of the audience in particular are thrust into the insane world of cinema as they experience a series of military conflicts dating back to the 1800s up to the Second World War 2. Through various cinematic styles ranging from early silent era films to talkies to musicals to animation, Obayashi tells the story of how we are often complicit in our demise as we sit back and accept the wars that unfold before us and during our lifetimes. As our leading lady Noriko says, “I’ll go in the movie to know who I am.” So, what do war films tell us about ourselves?
Well, what one can surmise is that cinema, depending on who is wielding it, often romanticize the atrocities of past and present. As the wars depicted in war films are lies, but “There’s truth in a lie.” Wars have been fought, lives were lost, and for what? Obayashi is attempting to reach out to audiences and ask if they know who they are? What have these wars contributed to the larger picture?
Whilst we jump from one fantastical interpretation of war to another, Obayashi doesn’t let go of the fact that cinema is a wondrous thing. As he is condemning war and the ways we glorify it, he is attempting to return our attention to the wonderful unifying power of cinema. The power of the moving picture and all the ways we have evolved the medium since it was invented in the late 1800’s. Could a message like this be conveyed in a tighter 1 hr 30 min experience? Sure. However, where is the fun in that?
Labyrinth of Cinema is an experience. In its totality it is a mesmerizing look at the history of the darkest parts and the brightest parts of humanity, and how the oddly intersect. As his final parting gift to us, Obayashi reminds us all that the art of cinema is a means to enrich culture and unite people.
Labyrinth of Cinema enjoyed its Canadian premiere at the virtual edition of Fantasia Film Festival 2020 on August 24th
by Ferdosa Abdi