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Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation at Japan Cuts 2020

スクリーンショット 2020-07-14 午前10.16.50

As mentioned in my last post, I’m still quarantining in Japan. But I wanted to let everyone know about a panel discussion I did on the work of the late filmmaker Obayashi Nobuhiko for this year’s edition of Japan Cuts. We recorded it on June 23 and it will go live online starting on July 17 here

As anyone who’s read this blog knows, my relationship with Obayashi goes back many years, beginning with simply watching him as a spectator until I finally met him in 2014. We hosted him at Yale in 2015, immediately after which the Japan Society ran an Obayashi retrospective that I programmed. I was even honored to write a short contribution to a book that Obayashi published. When he passed away in April this year, after his long battle with cancer, I wrote up a remembrance that, while still quite feeble, hopefully gives a sense of what Obayashi meant to me and to my family.

In late May, Kazu Watanabe of the Japan Society contacted me about the possibility of moderating a panel on Obayashi for this year’s Japan Cuts, which due to COVID-19 was going online this year. Japan Cuts was not only going to be showing Obayashi’s last film, Labyrinth of Cinema, along with a documentary on Obayashi and his wife/producer Kyoko, it was creating a new award for its Next Generation section named after Obayashi. Kazu explained that the festival wanted to hold some form of commemorative event on Obayashi that would be online.

Traveling to Japan in the COVID Era

This is not a piece about film, but friends suggested I post it as a kind of public service, reporting on what it was like to fly to Japan in early July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll add a little extra about movies at the end. This account is also somewhat of a continuation of my series of posts about Japan during the pandemic, which I hope you can look at here and here.


My wife (who is a Japanese national) and I were pretty sure we were not going to be able to make our yearly summer trip back to Japan, but issues arose with our house in Yokohama and there were strong fears I would lose my permanent resident status if I didn’t return. So we dug into our pocket and bought tickets. The first flight to Haneda was cancelled, so we had to rebook to go to Narita. We left on Monday, July 6, from New York. Terminal 7 at JFK (photo to the right) was empty with only one of the many shops open. I think there were only four flights leaving that day from the terminal. We flew ANA to Narita, and they boarded us in groups to avoid too much mixing. Still, probably only a third of the seats were occupied, even in economy. So whether this was intentional or not, social distancing was rather easy. We wiped everything down, wore masks, used hand sanitizer constantly, and cut down on the trips to the bathroom. Everyone wore masks, but a few wore hazmat suits and/or protective shields or goggles. We debated whether to eat the inflight food, but decided it wasn’t different from eating the food we’ve had delivered at home. The only problem is I stupidly kept on forgetting to put my mask back on after eating! It was a good flight, but it was hard to sleep so I watched a bunch of movies (more on that later). The flight arrived early probably because there is much less international travel.

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