Tag Archives: Nobuhiko Obayashi

71. HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

“One of the most, if not the most, original films I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen some weird stuff.”–Ti West, director of House of the Devil

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DIRECTED BY: Nobuhiko Obayashi

FEATURING: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Yôko Minamida

PLOT: A group of fun-loving Japanese school girls plan to spend their summer at a beautiful, isolated mansion, but after experiencing paranormal activity they come to realize the house itself may want them dead.  Their mysterious wheelchair-bound hostess seems to have a nefarious fate in mind for her guests, but the girls are oblivious to the warning signs.  Their affable, mutton-chopped teacher is en route to the house, but may not make it in time to save them—and indeed, has no idea they are even in danger.

Still from House (1977)

BACKGROUND:

  • Hausu was writer/director Obayashi’s first full-length feature. He had previously made a name as a director of commercials, though he had also made some experimental art films in the 50′s and 60′s.
  • The movie draws concepts from popular Japanese folklore/horror movie tropes, including a kaibyo: a half-feline, half-demon who can move between cat and human bodies. Much of the plot was actually inspired by the “eccentric musings” of Obayashi’s eleven-year-old daughter.
  • Hausu was initially intended as a horror-thriller meant to appeal to a teen audience, as Toho Studios tried to compete with Hollywood blockbusters like Jaws that were dominating the Japanese box office. The film was released on the bottom half of a double bill along with a sweet teen romance, sporting the tagline “How Seven Beauties Were Eaten!”
  • Obayashi spent two years working on the story and music, working with pop group Godiego on the soundtrack. He also inserted cultural and era-specific references in his casting of the teen-idol lookalikes. Hausu was a big hit in Japan, establishing Obayashi as a well-known and successful filmmaker.  Today he is popular for his anime and manga adaptations. In 2009 he received the imperial badge of the Order of the Rising Sun, along with Clint Eastwood.
  • Despite its popular success in Japan, House was never released in the United States until recently. After a spectacular success debuting at the 2009 New York Asian Film Festival, the film was picked up for screenings across the nation.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Almost any scene could fit the bill, but the most infamous and iconic sequence is the ravenous piano gradually chopping up the music-loving “Melody” as her friend helplessly watches. With a mixture of live-action and animation techniques, the scene depicts various body parts flailing throughout the instrument (after she’s somehow been stripped of her clothes, of course) and colorful effects. Sounds of pounding piano keys mix with screams and, for an unknown reason, laughter, as a display skeleton dances goofily in the background. It’s a strange scene, both hilarious and terrifying.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A more apt question would be, what doesn’t make it weird? Rife with images of flying heads, murderous furniture, laughing watermelons, an invisible wind machine, and a truly demonic kitty, the film’s surrealist atmosphere and ever-shifting styles are as hilarious as they are inscrutable. There is no way to get a handle on Hausu—the viewer is completely at the mercy of Obayashi’s bizarre whims.

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Brief Clip from House (Hausu)

COMMENTS: This movie starts off as a laughably saccharine, soft-glow teenage drama, Continue reading 71. HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

READER RECOMMENDATION: HOUSE [HAUSU] (1977)

The third submission in the June review writing contest: by Alex Kittle.

DIRECTOR: Nobuhiko Obayashi

FEATURING: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Yôko Minamida

PLOT: A group of fun-loving Japanese school girls plan to spend their summer at a

Still from House [Hausu] (1977)

beautiful, isolated mansion, but after experiencing some paranormal activity they eventually realize the house itself may want them DEAD!

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST
:  “Weird” doesn’t even begin to describe this movie.  A floating head, a ravenous piano, sporadic animation, a laughing watermelon, a dancing skeleton, a glowing cat, gusts of wind that only affect one person, a host of aggressive, mobile objects, and a group of girls who REFUSE to acknowledge the weirdness: it defies explanation, really.

COMMENTS
House is a wondrous sight to behold, with delightfully trippy colors, spontaneous animated sequences, and experimental horror imagery; several sequences are reminiscent of home-made youtube music videos.  The effects are noticeably antiquated, but that just adds to the fun!  The entire film is really a collection of incredible, strange, and under-explained moments that left me as incredulous as I was tickled pink.  Cats fly, clocks bleed, mattresses, logs, and floating heads attack, skeletons dance, and a score of other ridiculous, unexpected things happen at every turn.

The bluntly-nicknamed characters are hilariously one-dimensional, each one relegated to her specific interest/trait.  Mac talks about nothing but eating, while Melody is only the focus when there’s a piano in the room (a very… hungry piano).  Fantasy is the only one who plays witness to most of the strange occurrences, and of course no one believes her for her overactive imagination.  Kung-Fu is by far the best character, handling every obstacle with badassery and no questions asked.  Also: she has the best hair.  Supporting characters include the girls’ heavily-sideburned teacher en route to the House but finding an impediment in bananas (that will make sense when you see it, I promise- well as much sense as it can make), a pudgy salesman with talking watermelons, and Gorgeous’s new step-mother, who literally cannot go more than 2 seconds without a gust of wind blowing romantically around her.  It’s a remarkable talent.

The dialogue oscillates between being frivolous and insanely over-dramatic, but the best part about it is its frequent insistence on completely ignoring what’s happening in its own movie.  Most of the weirdest scenes are just passed over by the characters without comment, and that just makes the “WTF?!” factor that much better.  House is a strange, strange, strange film and I absolutely loved it.   It’s hilarious, inventive, utterly unexpected, and lends no comparison to any other movie I’ve seen.  Look for it on Criterion in September 2010!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“You, my friend, lover that you are of the obscure, the grotesque, the inscrutable, and the just flat-out funky and awe-inspiringly eccentric, have never, ever seen anything like House (aka Hausu). Even by my permanently warped standards, House is beyond the pale: a surreal, indefinable piece of proto-Japanese horror/comedy that was made in 1977 (it was director Obayashi’s debut feature), only to find a second life at Austin’s Fantastia International Film Festival, Sitges, Fantasia Fest, and wherever connoisseurs of the outré, the outrageous, and the seriously freaky gather.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (rerelease)