« Coffee Break | Main | They Came from Beyond Hollywood!!! »

October 26, 2010

The Discarnates


Ijintachi tono natsu
Nobuhiko Obayashi - 1988
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

As in his other films, Nobuhiko Obayashi employs some cheap special effects for The Discarnates. Unlike the other films I have seen, it is used only in a few key moments. Unlike Obayashi's films which seem to be aimed primarily at an audience in the age range of his teen protagonists, this is the Obayashi film about and for adults. The English language title is a giveaway regarding the subject matter. This is a ghost story to be sure. Unlike House, where Obayashi threw everything at the audience, including the kitchen sink, in The Discarnates much is withheld until the last possible moment.

The film is less about ghosts than about love, loss and regret. Hidemi, a television writer, feels a sense of dislocation when his friend, Ichiro, announces his intentions towards Hidemi's ex-wife. Hidemi lives in what is, for reasons never explained, a virtually empty apartment building. The only other tenant, a fairly attractive woman, comes to Hidemi's door to offer champagne and possible friendship. Hidemi curtly turns her away. That feeling of psychological and physical alienation becomes more pronounced when, doing research for a new show, Hidemi, finds himself alone in what is suppose to be an abandoned subway tunnel. Running out of the subway station, Hidemi takes a walk in his childhood neighborhood of Asakusa. While strolling in the neighborhood, Hidemi encounters a man who looks like his father, first sitting in a theater where a magician performs an old fashioned show, and is coaxed in coming to the man's apartment where he lives with a woman who resembles Hidemi's mother. The pair speak to Hidemi in very familiar terms. Hidemi returns to visit the two people, not certain if they are in fact the parents who died twenty-eight years ago.

This new sense of belonging allows Hidemi to open up to his neighbor, Kei. Hidemi and Kei find solace in each other, although Kei also suggests that she has some secrets of her own that she would prefer not to share. Gradually, Hidemi finds that his visits with his parents may come with a price, but in the meantime his attitude is that he doesn't care if they are ghosts or monsters. "They could be zombies for all I care."

Part of the soundtrack consists of Puccini's "O mio babbino caro". As frequently as the song is heard, the message of the film questions the notion of dying for love. More problematic is a scene of Hidemi and Kei conversing, with Carmen Comes Home playing on television in the background. Is what was intended by Obayashi a comic counterpoint regarding those who work in the entertainment industry, self-deluded about their art, and out of place in their environment? How much of the film is autobiographical, I can not say, although the film adapted from Taichi Yamada's novel, titled in English, Strangers. It is worth noting that Yamada's early career was as a writer for film and television, and that his first credits were writing for Keisuke Kinoshita, the director of Carmen Comes Home, who was working in television during the mid Sixties. This may be a simplistic interpretation, but the scene of the magic show, complete with the rabbit coming out of the hat, may be Yamada and Obayahsi's way of showing the seductive power of illusion. The ghosts in The Discarnates may not be real, but the feelings engendered can not be denied. For the characters in the film, it is as difficult to let go of the past as it is to embrace the present. At its conclusion, The Discarnates is never scary, but it is achingly sad.

Nobuhiko Obayashi

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 26, 2010 07:55 AM