Obayashi was born on 9 January 1938 in the city of Onomichi, Japan. He was the eldest son of a father who was
one in a long paternal line of medical doctors. As his father was called to the battlefront during World War II, he was
raised in his early infancy by his maternal grandparents. Through his childhood and adolescence Obayashi followed
many artistic pursuits including drawing, writing, playing the piano, and a growing interest in animation and film.
In 1955 Obayashi, at the urging of his father, began procedures to enter medical school and become a doctor.
However, he shortly thereafter abandoned this initiative partway through an entrance examination in order to follow
his artistic interests. In 1956 he was accepted to the liberal arts department of Seijo University where he began to work
with 8 and 16mm film. Toward the end of his stay at the university Obayashi began working on a series of experimental
films. Along with works by other filmmakers such as Shuji Terayama and Donald Richie Obayshi’s films would develop
the tone of Japanese experimental cinema through the 1960s. In these early experimental films Obayashi employed
a number of avant-garde techniques that he would carry into his later mainstream work. Though these films tended
to be of a personal nature, they received public viewership due to distribution by the Art Theatre Guild.
Following his departure from university Obayashi, while concurrently continuing his experimental films, earned
a living as a director in the new field of television advertisements. Obayashi’s TV commercials had a visual appeal
similar to his experimental works. In the 1970s he began a series of Japanese ads featuring well-known American stars
such as Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson.
Obayashi began directing feature films starting in 1977 with the horror comedy “House”. The film employed a mixture of
trick photography and avant-garde techniques to achieve its distinctive surreal visuals. Through the 1980s and onwards
he continued to make feature films and broadened his mainstream appeal. He has become particularly well-known for
his coming-of-age movies: films such as Exchange Students (1982) and Chizuko’s Younger Sister (1991) have prominent
coming-of-age themes while still maintaining surreal fantasy elements and Obayashi’s distinct visual flair.