Experiments In Film: E No Naka No Shouja (1960)

Nobuhiko Obayashi is perhaps better known for his zany 1977 horror comedy House than anything else.  However, prior to being a noted director and producer of commercials, Obayashi offered the world a slew of experimental films that often were as innovative as they were sentimental.  Often filling the screen with editing tricks and post-filming overlays his films clearly reflect a realized vision from their initial opening to their often poetic closings, and this is certainly evidenced in his 1960 offering E No Naka No Shouja, which has no clear English translation as far as I have found.  However, I am in little need of a translator to realize the meaning and intent behind Obayahshi's work, it is all too clear.  It is a short narrative of a longing memory for a lost love that is matted over sweet piano jazz and images of youthful bliss.  In both grandiose long shots and focused close-ups Obayashi's film is a memory play of the most endearing kind, given its honesty and reflective elements it is hard not to enjoy, let alone be utterly moved by.  It is a filmmakers flowing expression of all that is lost, but not easily forgotten.

The film is a series of encounters involving a young man, and what appears to be a few different women, however, the viewer can never be certain as the women's faces are often shadowed or just far enough out of focus to seem vaguely similar.  The young man, with a sketch pad in hand, attempts to go about recreating the memory of either one, or a handful of girls, however, his drawing is always missing the figure in the center, one that is clearly feminine.  Thus the man's quest through various parts of sub-rural Japan meeting up with multiple women, lead him through an amusement park, a very oneiric playground and a lift that carries him loftily over what could be any village in Japan.  We as viewers always appear right behind the films memory, trying to play catch up to the young man's vision, which is executed brilliantly by Obayahsi as the camera often lingers behind the characters as they walk far off into symmetrical roadways and sidewalks.  Even the obvious aging of the film strip helps to add to the surreal nature of the film as every scratch and scrape helps to make the memory somehow truer, yet never fully realized.  As the film closes the man still lacks the figure for his drawing, and in disbelief closes his sketchbook and continues to wander the roads of Japan lost in something from the past that he still lacks.

For more information on Nobuhiko Obayashi or to watch E No Naka No Shouja click on the film images below:

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