Column & Interview

Nobuhiko Obayashi conveys the great filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s last message and entrusts world peace to future filmmakers.


On June 11, 2017, the award ceremony of SSFF & ASIA 2017 was held at the Meiji Jingu Kaikan in Tokyo, where the award-winners were announced. With the filmmakers and people of the film industry in the audience, Sugar & Spice, directed by 25-year-old Mi Mi Lwin from Myanmar, won the Grand Prix.

One of the jury members of the official competition, Nobuhiko Obayashi, shared a message to young filmmakers and spoke about the role movies play in achieving world peace.
His elaborate speech was 30 minutes long, something that is not often seen at award ceremonies. The full text and video of his speech will be released on the SSFF website. Although the value of a movie is ambiguous, Obayashi talked about the role it has been playing as a piece of journalism to criticize, observe, and reconstruct modern society. The late Akira Kurosawa passed the baton of ambition to Obayashi to create peace with movies. Suffering from terminal cancer, Obayashi’s days are unfortunately numbered. This is a message passed on from Kurosawa to Obayashi, and now from Obayashi to the younger generation.



If this was the Academy Awards in Hollywood, I would say “It’s show time!” and do a tap dance for you. But I’m just an old man who’s turning 80 soon. The reason why this old man is on this stage today is that last August, I was preparing to start a movie. It was supposed to be the culmination of my 76 years in filmmaking. But on the day before shooting, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given three months to live. I wasn’t supposed to be here tonight, but I’m still alive. So, I would like to tell you a story about films and entertainment. I’ve never told this to anyone before. It’s about the master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Our age gap was like that of father and son and he treated me well. He left a message not only to myself, but to all future filmmakers around the world. I’ve kept his message to myself all these years, but I would like to pass it on to you, as I stand here, near the end of my life.

Akira Kurosawa was also an amateur filmmaker a long, long time ago. He used to work for a film production company in Toho, Japan. He couldn’t make the movies he wanted to. He had to make movies as products for the company. While struggling to gain his freedom of expression, he made many wonderful movies. However, they were very restrictive productions. In the late period of his life, he left Toho and worked freelance for his own company, Kurosawa Production. He said about those early days, “Obayashi, after departing from the company system of Toho, I finally became an amateur. Being an amateur is great. We used to be bound by the culture of a nation at war and got our freedom of expression taken away from us. But now, as an amateur, I’m going to freely express what I want.” So, Kurosawa made movies about nuclear issues, atomic bomb issues, war issues, and his childhood experiences during the war. He made very real and truthful films about those issues until he passed away. I hope you’ll give me a little of your time so I can give you a final message from this great mentor.


I said that I’m an old man. It means that, I know wartime and experienced war. Those who were a few years older than me made every effort to tell the stories of war to the next generations. But things being the way they are, most have now passed on in recent times. I’m the only one left who knows that generation. That is why I would like to tell you this story. Now, what is war? We’re living in such a peaceful world now. Wartime is something that is totally different from now, like something out of a samurai movie that has nothing to do with your world. Though, we did have war, right here. It happened here. It happened in our daily life. How did it happen? I was a child at the time. For instance, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the boys were chanting, “Japan won! The enemy is defeated! We beat Roosevelt and Churchill! Japanese might is great!” With lanterns in our hands, we were on a spree. But it only took four years for things to drastically change. I was born into a family of doctors in an old port town. In those days, a doctor was in a position of authority in a town. All the town leaders gathered, baring their all, to discuss matters.

They would gather in the large 2nd floor rooms, and we would sneak upstairs to see with our eyes what the grown-ups were up to. When kids like us were there, they would suddenly lower their voices, as though they were talking about something bad. They would shut their mouths. Once, a young soldier in his uniform who was a military policeman came in. My grandfather, who was the head doctor in town, had greater authority over policemen. The policeman quietly listened to the discussion. My uncle, who was about the same age as the policeman, was also present. My uncle had lung disease and couldn’t go to war. He couldn’t serve in the army or serve his country. He was despised as unpatriotic, a traitor to his country and as a human being.

My uncle muttered, “Japan is going to lose the war soon and I believe it’s good for us.” That is what he said. The policeman was next to him. They were about the same age. The next day, my uncle disappeared. Three days later, he was brought back by the military policeman, covered in bruises. The policeman’s facial expression was totally different. Authority can change a man’s face so drastically. Japan was on its way to being defeated. I was born near Hiroshima where the atomic bomb hit. My wife is the same age as me and almost lost her life in the Tokyo air raids on March 10th. During the crisis, my wife’s father wouldn’t hide or run. He opened the windows on the second floor of their house. He told his daughter, “Look Kyoko! They’re beautiful like fireworks. But don’t forget that those fireworks are blowing off people’s limbs and lives, remember this image! Human beings are so senseless. Take a good look and don’t forget!”

Then…her neighborhood was burned down. My wife Kyoko barely escaped from the catastrophic field, but she survived. Her father was a high-ranking person in Tokyo but retired to the country. He lost his beloved son who was a reserve in the Navy. At the same time, he lost all hope in life. The war will take away people’s dignity, people’s lives, it will take away everything. It might be hard to believe, but such a futile and horrible thing happened only 70 years ago, right here, as plain as day. The fact that we have forgotten all this, I believe, is what is causing all the terrible tragedies of today.

It is true that there is a justification for war. War can be considered a diplomatic solution. Moreover, some say war can revitalize the economy. When there are various beliefs, there is always the risk of the eruption of war. Our generation experienced the war. Has being under the nuclear umbrella of a superpower really ever protected us? They will never protect us. Nations only fight war for their own countries. Has there ever been a nuclear deterrence? There has never been deterrence in force. My generation, who understands the horrors of war, is dying. The generation gap terrifies me. We choose our own leader. We choose them through elections, so they are our representative. When the leader, our representative, governs our nation in a good manner, there is nothing to worry about. But none of those leaders now have experienced war. The futility and horrors of World War I and II, there are few people left who lived through it. “No more war! No! No matter how rich it will make us, no war!” People who can say this aloud are gradually disappearing. I fear that the politics of the leaders today have become something that nobody can take any responsibility for. Mr. Kurosawa shared this fear, so in his late days, he made movies on nuclear issues and war issues. This is what Mr. Kurosawa said in his final message.

“Obayashi, human beings are so foolish…we still can’t stop war. Human beings are the most foolish creatures on earth, but on the other hand, we created movies. Movies have a strange power. It is the result of the invention of a recording device designed to accurately record reality. However, modern inventions always go wrong somehow. The scientific civilization is full of malfunctions. But thanks to those malfunctions, people seem to disappear or fly away. Many strange images were made as a result. By using those images, something unnatural is created visually. It’s not realism, but there’s a truth there that reveals the human soul, that’s what makes a movie.”

There is truth behind every lie. Movies are nothing but big lies. But their lies can smash the power-hungry world’s condescending attitudes and turn the world upside down. Something becomes visual. For instance, we believe in justice. We believe that our justice is right and that of the enemies is wrong. First of all, what is justice? We went through this process during the war when we were kids. We believed in the justice of the Empire of Japan and fought against the US army. We were prepared to fight and die for our nation. But when we were defeated, the justice of the USA and UK, which we called “Great Satan,” was right and Japan was wrong. We learned that the winner is always right. That is war. So, to fight for your justice, you have to be at war all the time. There are people who say that is why we fight wars. However, what Japan got after being defeated was a miraculous treasure, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. If every nation had Article 9 of the Constitution, there will be no war in the world. Our Constitution can be absurd and unrealistic, and it’s an unreasonable constitution. But it’s morally true. The power of the film comes from believing it. In that sense, this is what Kurosawa said to me.

“I’m 80 years old and going to die soon. Movies have the beauty and power to save the world from war and to lead the world to peace. You can start war easily, but to build peace, it will take at least 400 years. If I could live another 400 years, I would keep making movies, and with my movies, I would achieve world peace. But, there is not much time left for me. Obayashi, how old are you?” I was 50 at the time. “You’re 50 and I’m 80. But you can achieve what took me 80 years, in 60 years. That means you can go 20 years further than me. If you can’t do it, then your children can, if not, your grandchildren can continue little by little. Then one day when someone makes a movie 400 years from now, the power of movies would erase all wars from the world. Movies have that power. I’ve learned this from studying the movies of my predecessors in Japan, the USA, and Europe.”

Movies are a wonderful thing. When Japan was defeated in World War II, the movie General MacArthur made us watch was a Hollywood movie, and not an American movie. Hollywood movies were created by people who were exiled from their own countries in World War I and II. They came to Hollywood, which is on the west coast of the USA. They believed that in Hollywood, they can make films that can build the world of peace. 80% of the population is still Jewish. They are people without a land. They made movies. They know the pain of a defeated nation and the vanity of war. We were forced to watch them as propaganda. Although it was ironic, we were happy and it proved the power of movies. I would like to ask you to keep your faith in movies. Look towards the future despite these tumultuous times, and someday, make Kurosawa’s 400th-year movie in the future.

In his last moments, Kurosawa said, “I really do want you to continue what we have been doing. Movies are not recording devices, they are memorizing devices. It links the hearts and souls of people through a story. That is what’s so good about movie stories. The story is telling a lie while depicting the truth.” In order to confront the crime called war, in order to confront the weapon called war, justice is not enough. What we need is sanity. To do what is right. A world where people can safely live peacefully, and in harmony with their loved ones: that is a righteous world. When politicians, businesses, and religions start declaring their right to power, let us, the artists and creators, help find the right way to happiness for people in a rational way.


Now in such a crucial time, this year’s Short Shorts Film Festival was quite wonderful. When Mr. Bessho returned from the USA 20 years ago, he wanted to have a short film festival in Japan. I thought it was a great idea. This is the first time for me to participate in this festival. I would like to convey this to Mr. Besho, too. Please believe in Kurosawa’s respect for movies, his pride in movies, and the power of movies to lead the world towards peace. Keep your faith in movies, and keep making movies in this great world of entertainment.

There were many entertaining works this year. Among them, was a well-made short about friendship, betrayal, and the human connection between a taxi driver and his unpaying passenger. Yes, all films touched on how people connect or what makes it difficult to connect, or how people drift between hope and despair. But this story was too “well-made.” A “well-made” film doesn’t seem to fit in this current, dark era. In other words, something this “well-made” doesn’t exist in these times. There was always a dark shroud over this film… The film The World in Your Window won the award instead. A window serves as a point from where you observe the world. It follows an adult who can only live in the past and a child who can only live in the future. Are they going to relate to each other? If they can, the generation of war will shift to the generation of peace. But if they can’t, it will end as a different world. This film, placing fragile hope in people’s connections, was in the International Competition.

The award-winning film in the Asia International Competition was also great. We live in a world of television and in an information society. This is a very dangerous thing. In the information society, information is sold off in pieces, instantly judged as right or wrong, and it ends there. The Trump issue, our current government’s issues, the school controversy, somebody’s affair or the Tokyo Giants’ losing streak, they’re all given the same 5 minutes of attention and importance in the news. It is just a matter of right and wrong. It is somebody else’s problem. The danger of our time is that everything is somebody else’s problem. Movies have the power to take back somebody else’s problem as our own. The Asia International award-winning work suggests throwing away the TV and going back to the jungle. It may sound like a utopian illusion, or it might have described one of the topics we must seriously consider. This film won the award because of its compelling theme. Tonight, we have Mr. Ogura, who works in the frontline of the TV world. On the other hand, going back to the jungle is not enough. If we are going to stop our nuclear world, we must go back to the days before man. Listening to the words of the great philosopher who died before the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, to what extent are we responsible for the happiness we have been seeking in this civilized world? We, as filmmakers, must desperately seek for the answers.

Last is the Japan Competition. Frankly, this was the most optimistic film. It lacked tension. All other films state the position they are standing in the current world. Such as the Mexican border issue or a film about murder by a brutal yet artistic dictator. All of them depicted a tense and unstable world. However, perhaps Japan is spoiled by information. I would like to say this to Japanese creators.

Though, all of the films were good, I was moved by one film in particular. A young lady lives with two boys in New York. The camera follows their lives, not from the view of the cameraman, but that of her friends. This film made me feel that the young Japanese are growing healthily and it’s great that these people are expressing the era of the 21st century. At the same time, I was terrified by their lack of sense of danger. I was stunned to see in our Japanese society, there still remains the custom of dispersing cremated ashes into the air and bone cleansing of the dead. Even though I’m Japanese, there are still so many things I do not know about Japan. In the film, the wife had to go back to her husband’s homeland and conduct the bone cleansing. In the Chinese character, the word “wife” consists of woman and house. Are we living in such an age? It should be just husband and wife, but still, the wife is married to the house and family. The wife is married to a family, so she has to participate in the bone cleansing. But through that experience, she finds her identity in the house, town, family, and herself. In our society of diluted human relationships, here might be a clue for us Japanese who are seeking stronger family ties. In that sense, this is why the film won the Japan Award.

There was this film… Is the filmmaker here today? The title is A Human Being Is Good. In a class of adolescent children, there is this mysterious and introverted boy. That boy is neglected by his classmates. One day, he makes a friend. But when his friend touches the boy’s skin, the friend’s skin peels off and when they shake hands, the friend’s hand drops off. Up to this point, the production, acting and cinematography were excellent. If the film ended there, I would have given it the Grand Prix. Up to that point, I thought that I was that rotting zombie. That is the current reality. But in this film, zombies are just like people, and can live happily just like “normal” people. It turned into a comedy and this is where I want Japanese creators to think about your own identity and whether you are the zombie. Are you going to use zombies to make the movie comical? If so, that is merely a movie. When you understand that you are the zombie, then this becomes a movie based on realism.

Yes, realism is something where each person has a voice. It’s not the voice of the majority of a democracy. When the minority voices are heard, society becomes complete. In that sense, you, who is a minority of the world, must feel the danger in this modern world, and try to connect what’s unconnected to put a stop to this century of war, and turn it into a century of peace. If Kurosawa were alive, he would give applause to such spirit. We will support those movies. Movies are an enduring form of journalism. Movies make philosophy. I would like all of you to keep in mind that movies can be a tool to establish your identity. I apologize if I talked too long, and I would like to end by conveying Kurosawa’s message, “Please continue my work.” Young fellows, please continue my work. Thank you.


Nobuhiko Obayashi


Born in Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture in 1938. Started filmmaking with a kinamtoscope found in the storeroom of his house when he was 3 years old. Independent film shot with 16mm film “Émotion=densetsuno gogo=itsukamita dorakyura” was screened at galleries, halls, and universities and got high reputation. “The Person Who Is Eaten” (1963) won the Special Prize of the Jury at Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival. “HOUSE” (1977) was his first feature film and he won the Blue Ribbon Award. Films “I Are You, You Am Me” (1982), “The Little Girl Who Conquered Time” (1983), and “Lonely Heart” (1985) were shot in his home country and called as `Onomichi Trilogy’.
“The Discarnates” (1988) won th Mainichi Film Award for Best Director, “Beijing Watermelon” (1989) won the Best Director of Yamaji Fumiko Movie Award, “The Rocking Horseman” (1992) won the Best Film of Bunka-cho Film Award, “SADA” (1998) won the Prize of the FIPRESCI Jury in Berlin International Film Festival, “The Reason” (2004) won Best Director of Japan Movie Critics Award and Honorable Mention of Fujimoto Prize, “Casting Blossoms to the Sky” (2011) and “Seven Weeks” (2014) won the Grandprix at TAMA Film Festival and more.
The latest film “Hanagatami” is going to open this fall. Received the Medal with Purple Ribbon in spring, 2004 and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in fall, 2009.