Sunday, March 19, 2017


House is a film that seems to set out to defy all attempts at categorization or even comprehension.

If you were to imagine a version of Evil Dead directed by Luis Buñuel using overly-colorized sets from H. R. Pufnstuf... from the point of view of a half-dozen Japanese schoolgirls that are simultaneously having the same nightmare about it... that is House.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. This movie has a lot of interesting history so I'll need to back up a bit.

In the mid-70's, after emerging from an art group that included the likes of Yoko Ono, a lifelong film-experimenter by the name of Nobuhiko Obayashi was working as a director of strangely avant-garde television commercials. After a few of these...

One of his most famous series of commercials starred Charles Bronson for Mandom cologne.

...he managed to catch the eye of Nagaharu Yodogawa, a journalist, who wrote "If Obayashi can make such TV commercials, he should be able to make Japanese films more exciting." Only a year later, Obayashi was approached by Toho Studios about trying to make a film "as exciting as Jaws," and he was finally given a chance to make his first commercial feature.

After his initial meeting however, Obayashi found that he didn't really want to go in the direction the studio was hoping for at all. He just couldn't find any artistic appeal in trying to make some sort of man-eating animal Jaws clone like they were suggesting. When he got home afterward he found his 13 year-old daughter Chigumi brushing her hair in front of a mirror, so he asked her what she thought about his predicament. Her reply was, "If my reflection in the mirror could jump out and eat me, that'd be scary." Obayashi knew she was onto something altogether different than Jaws, so he immediately followed that by asking what else she thought might be scary. Her reply? "I love playing theme tunes on the piano after watching the films, but I can't play as well as you dad... and it feels as if the keys are biting my fingers."

Pictured: Not Jaws. I think we're onto something...

Later, while visiting relatives in the country, Nobuhiko and Chigumi retrieved a watermelon from a well, split it open with a cleaver and ate it. Afterwards Chigumi remarked, "As the watermelon came out of the well, it looked like it was a smiling head and it was scary."

Pictured: Also not Jaws

The story's generation proceeded along those lines until what emerged was a strange fantasy about a group of girls who go to stay for a while in a house belonging to one girl's widowed aunt... who's a cannibal... and can possess the house itself to make it do her bidding.

Also, this cat's involved.

Now just in case those glowing eyes were a little too subtle for the viewer to pick up on, the film goes out of its way to rationally explain why this is a paranormal cat...

Anyway, the aunt/house proceeds to try "eating" the girls and has some degree of success. The pretty girl's face shatters and falls off, men are reduced to skeletons and/or piles of bananas (in a scene I couldn't even begin to describe), and eventually we find ourselves at a climax that must include every crazy camera effect Obayashi had available to him. That clip is long enough to shows how the movie resolves the little haunted-house problem: at the last minute disembodied legs kick a painting of the cat, which kills the cat, which kills the aunt... Now at this point I'm sure the more logically minded readers are thinking, "Wait, wouldn't that cause the room to fill with cat's blood?"

Well yes... yes it would.

As strange as all of this might have been, as it turned out this was the first time in Japanese history that a film studio had been willing to risk getting behind a filmmaker that wasn't one of their contracted employee-directors, so, whatever Obayashi produced, it was very important that it be well-received. Luckily for Obayashi and the rest of Japan's stranger filmmakers, it was a huge success... The industry was changed and actual film-making was now a realistic ambition for Japanese artists with crazy movie ideas everywhere.

Visually, House is an hour and a half of interesting-looking and historically significant art. As strange as the images we see are, it's obvious that every single thing in the film was specifically intended to look exactly as it does.

I think the trailer said it right by introducing this film as: A FEAR TOO BEAUTIFUL TO RESIST! If you're as interested in not resisting as I am, tour dates for screenings are posted on the Janus Janus site. DVD and Blu-Ray are available on Amazon.

Note: As for the title, House seems to usually be referred to as the Japanese word, "Hausu." The English word "House" is used as the actual title on even the original Japanese promo artwork... so I'll be sticking with that.