House [1977] [Criterion] (BLU)

Nobuhiko Obayashi

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Amoeba Review

Edythe Smith 01/04/2011

Hausu is not for everyone, though, if you find anime films and series to be amusing and tasteful, you'll probably enjoy this quirky Japanese horror flick. The comparison to anime is based upon the shared characteristics that this film has with the genre. Aside from the dizzy colors and characters with zany nicknames, it also sports a team of girls who fight against a docile villain. It seems as though anime always has this creepy bad guy in the shadows who has a glossy stare and speaks like an intellectual zombie. Like anime, House also has no real plot; the meat and potatoes is in the action and the effects.

 

However, it would be unjust to say that this movie is simply a live-action anime. Besides being a unique horror film, it also comes off as a Japanese ghost story, except the phantom is symbolized by a mythical cat named Blanche, the reincarnation of some evil spirit. Nobuhiko Obayashi, the director, also added a personal touch by working in a bit of his own history to the film. As a former pianist and medical student turned experimental filmmaker, the movie features a menacing piano that dismembers a character, and plenty of animated limbs. Obayashi should not only be praised for the artistic direction here, but for the fact that, like Spike Jonze, feature films weren’t always a part of his craft. The director is most prominent in Japan for his experimental films and TV commercials, the latter casting several big American stars, such as Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson. House is actually his directorial debut, so you can imagine the liberties taken when he didn't have to cram all of his ideas into a few minutes.

 

The claim that the movie has no plot may seem like rhetoric, but having a story does not equate to having a plot. The story surrounds a group of teenage schoolgirls who are searching for a location to have their holiday. The ringleader, Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), becomes the party-pooper and wants to spend her vacation with her father, until she realizes that his girlfriend, who is in the process of becoming her stepmother, might be along for the ride. She throws a tantrum and begins to think about her deceased mother, remembering that she has a mysterious aunt whom she's never met. Looking for a connection, she writes to her and begins to daydream about meeting her mother's sister. When her aunt replies, she gives her permission to come spend her vacation at her house in the country. The letters continue and in a matter of days, Gorgeous and her gang of friends are invited to take a trip to see her, thus their vacation is saved.

 

The nickname Gorgeous comes from the fact that she is the assumed prettiest and most graceful of her group of friends, therefore her buddies sport names that match them as well. There's the nerdy one, Prof (Ai Matsubara); the overweight compulsive eater, Mac (Mieko Satô); the spunky (and, in my opinion, most attractive) fighter, Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo); the dreamer, Fantasy (Kumiko Ôba); the old-fashioned, Sweetie (Masayo Miyako); and the piano player, Melody (Eriko Tanaka). Once the girls arrive, they are a little put off by Gorgeous's eccentric aunt and her creepy Persian, Blanche. They settle in and try to make the most of the trip until their friends start disappearing. Before long, the house turns into a crimson wonderland of murder and the old woman and her cat are exposed as the culprits.

While many of the sequences bring to mind an acid trip of some sort, the parts of the story that play on ghosts and evil are very satisfying in a way that is not comical. As mentioned before, the most enjoyable and understandable parts of the movie are those which resemble anime, but there is so much more to take in. Though it may be a bit over-stimulating, seeing objects such as a watermelon and piano come to life takes the movie one step away from being an anime-esque horror and reminds you of fantasy movies. This may sound strange, but the surrealism, though there was a ton of it, never seemed boring or repetitive. Each scene is packed with unbelievable events that come off more like a dream than a meaningless display of effects. For that reason, I found that I enjoyed watching the movie over and over again, and in return learned more about Japanese expressionism and storytelling. House may not be for everyone, but anyone could be impressed with the filmmaking techniques used here. I have never seen soft-focus, frame manipulation and color used to such extremes and with so much taste. This movie will help you to understand that cinema techniques can never be exhausted, so long as they keep being innovative. Highly Recommended.



Synopsis

In Japanese with English subtitles.

 

How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equally absurd and nightmarish, House might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years.

Product Details

  • Starring: Yoko Minamida, Kumiko Ohba, Kimiko Ikegami
  • Format: Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Label: The Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: 10/26/2010
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Catalogue #: 539

Special Features

  • Constructing a House, a new video piece with director Nobuhiko Obayashi
  • Emotion, a 1966 experimental film by Obayashi
  • New video appreciation by director Ti West (House of the Devil)
  • An essay by Chuck Stephens
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