Director Nobuhiko Obayashi, who died on April 10 at the age of 82, was incredibly prolific during his six-decade career. A pioneering experimental filmmaker in the 1960s, he went on to direct 2,000 television commercials (by his own estimate; no exact count exists) and 43 theatrical features.
In reviewing his films for The Japan Times and curating a selection of his films for the 2016 edition of the Udine Far East Film Festival, I found Obayashi to be a filmmaker who had an outsized talent and an unfettered imagination, coupled with a fervent pacifism. As a boy in Onomichi, a port city on the Seto Inland Sea where he shot many of his films, he had experienced World War II and its aftermath and, especially in his later years, expressed anti-war messages in his films.
Even working under corporate bosses like the giant Dentsu advertising agency, or with big-name producers such as Haruki Kadokawa, Obayashi put his personal stamp on everything while thumbing his nose at convention. In a film industry that was governed by strict hierarchies and rigid ideas on how to make "proper" films, when he was starting out, Obayashi's watchword was "freedom," and his "anything goes" experimentation was seen as amateurish at best by the powers that be.