Welcome to Setouchi Kinema, please take a seat. It’s the last picture show for this theater in the backwater of Onomichi, Japan, and three young men (an aspiring yakuza, a serious “movie history fanatic,” and a romantic, wide-eyed cinephile called Mario Baba) are about to be magically transported into the war films they’ve come to watch. Hopping from movie to movie in Sherlock Jr. style, they will hurtle through decades of Japanese military history—from feudal battles to the bombing of Hiroshima—and chase after a young girl who, like them, has found her way into the screen, and dreams of a pacifist future. This, in a nutshell, is the plot of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s heartrending Labyrinth of Cinema; how you’ll respond to it won’t depend on how much you know about Japan’s past or Obayashi’s idiosyncratic oeuvre (which spans horror, coming-of-age drama, experimental film, and even animation), but how receptive you are to the wildly utopian question that haunts the film: what if cinema could still serve as a force for change, a means to imagine a more peaceful world?
Read Leonardo Goi's full review for Film Comment