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Nobuhiko Obayashi’s beautifully told tale, SEVEN WEEKS, concludes Japan Society retrospective this weekend

SEVEN WEEKS (NO NO NANANANOKA) (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2014)
Japan Society
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Sunday, December 6, $12, 7:00
Series continues through December 6

Japan Society’s two-weekend, ten-film series “Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Retrospective,” which has revealed the Japanese auteur to be so much more than just the director of the 1977 cult classic House, comes to a close December 6 at 7:00 with Obayashi’s latest, the 2014 epic family drama Seven Weeks. A tribute to Obayashi’s late friend and colleague Hyoji Suzuki, who started an independent film workshop in Ashibetsu in 1993 and died of pancreatic cancer four years later at the age of thirty-six, Seven Weeks was shot in and around that Hokkaido village over the course of five weeks. Ninety-two-year-old patriarch Mitsuo Suzuki (Toru Shinagawa), a local retired doctor who now runs the Starry Cultural Center gift shop (a nod to Hyoji Suzuki’s Hoshi no Furusato Ashibetsu Eiga Gakko, or Starry Beautiful Home Ashibetsu Film School), is on his deathbed, and various relatives are arriving to say goodbye and participate in the nanana no ka Buddhist ritual, in which they will hold memorials once a week for seven weeks following his death. The mourners include Mitsuo’s sister, Eiko (Tokie Hidari), grandchildren Fuyuki (Takehiro Murata), Haruhiko (Yutaka Matsuhige), Akito (Shunsuke Kubozuka), and Kanna (Saki Terashima), and great-granddaughter Kasane (Hirona Yamazaki), in addition to his nurse, Nobuko Shimizu (Takako Tokiwa). During the seven weeks, family members relive the past, uncovering surprising secrets about the young Mitsuo (Shusaku Uchida), his harmonica-playing friend Ono (Takao Ito), and the woman they both admire, Ayano (Yumi Adachi), as Obayashi weaves together past and present through flashbacks, the appearance of dead characters, and painting and poetry (several of the characters share a love of the poems of Nakahara Chuya).

But the film, shot in lush, fairy-tale-like colors by cinematographer Hisaki Mikimoto and featuring a sweeping score by Kôsuke Yamashita and a kind of Greek chorus embodied by the unusual Japanese band the Pascals, is not merely about the travails of one extended family; it is also very much about the rebuilding of Japanese society in the wake of WWII, the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and the ensuing Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, all of the clocks and watches in Seven Weeks are perpetually stopped at 2:45 pm, the exact time the horrific 3/11 events began. Obayashi also investigates the Soviet invasion of Sakhalin Island in August 1945 and the abuse of Korean migrant workers in Japanese mines as he explores the complex issue of the meaning of home. Seven Weeks is a beautifully told tale of memory and loss, of art and war, a summing up not only of Obayashi’s career but of twentieth-century Japan, with plenty of the director’s unique trademark style. “How do I paint the world?” Mitsuo asks at one point, something Obayashi has achieved in this deeply involving and wonderfully mysterious film. Fortunately for all of us, the seventy-seven-year-old auteur is not quite done painting the world, already hard at work on his next picture, continuing a legacy that is at last being celebrated here in the West. The final weekend of “Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Retrospective” also includes 1988’s The Discarnates, 1989’s Beijing Watermelon, and 2004’s Reason.

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