Title: House A.k.a. Hausu
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Oba, Ai Matubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yoko Minamida
Plot: A young girl nicknamed Gorgeous (Ikegami) travels to visit her aunt with her friends Prof (Matsubara), Melody (Tanaka), Kung Fu (Jinbo), Mac (Sato), Sweet (Miyako) and Fantasy (Oba). However upon arriving at the house they soon find themselves experiencing a series of increasingly strange supernatural events as things might not be as they seem.
Review: Occasionally I will come across a film were it seems the director is openly challenging critics to try and find a way to critic their film, as they bombard the viewer with so much randomness it leaves you wondering where the hell you are going to start when it comes to reviewing the film. It’s a situation I encountered with both “If…” and “Boardinghouse” and here this film also seemed to throw down the gauntlet as it reached ever new heights of sheer randomness.
Reportedly the studio bosses at Toho were looking for Obayashi to make a film like “Jaws” which seemingly was an idea which got lost somewhere in the production process as this is not even close to what they were probably expecting Obayashi to produce for them. Still after two years of being refused by every director at on the Toho books, who unsurprisingly felt it would end their careers if they took it on, it was eventually passed back to Obayashi to direct, who not being a staff member at Toho had previously had his request to direct the film turned down.
Starting off like a carefree high school drama, it really is hard to imagine were the film will eventually end up as director Obayahi wheels out a whole host of visual tricks he’d picked up from his time directing commercials and which here only grow in intensity as the film continues, while at the same time ensuring that the film maintains a surreal quality throughout. Unlike so many other surreal films though there is atleast a line of coherent plotting which runs through the film while Obayashi surrounds it with randomness so that your still never quite sure what you’re watching yet never to the point that it becomes confused.
The friends all nicknamed after their various personality quirks, so hence Prof is the bookish smart one, Melody is a talented musician and Kung Fu unsurprisingly likes to karate kick inanimate objects. There really is nothing hidden by this group who despite their wide skill range and sheer number of them they are surprisingly a believably close group and one whose personality’s remain individual even as the film becomes increasingly more frantic, while at the same time Obayahi continues to find ever more ingenious ways to utilise their skills into the storyline no matter how random they might seem.
The first half of the film charts the girls journey to the titular house, while Gorgeous fills in the background on her aunt, shown in the style of home movie footage, which for some explained reason the girls can all see and cast comments over what is happening on the screen, even though at this point they are riding on a train and hence nowhere near a movie projector or any other way that they could actually be viewing this footage. It is really in this first half that the film largely plays things for laughs, even with the strange flashes of greens which come from the eyes of Snowy the cat.
Once we get into the second half the film though the film makes for a polar shift in tone, as it changes from care free comedy into a surreal horror as the house starts to come to life in a style highly reminiscent of “Evil Dead 2” that you would be easily mistaken that it was a key influence for Sam Rami, which considering the film only got a release stateside in 2009 makes it highly unlikely at best and instead more of a strange coincidence. It is within this second half that the crazy factor goes way off the scale, as any number inanimate objects suddenly take on a life of their own, reinforcing the comparisons to “Evil Dead 2” with many of these ideas coming from Obayahi’s daughter before he creatively found a way to utilise them within the film. Hence we are treated to such fun surprises as a carnivorous piano and futons through to more simple yet still highly effective ones like a possessed mirror. Due to the surreal style which Obayahi shoots the film with none of these moments are especially scary even with occasional fountain of blood or sporadic moment of gore. At the same time this perhaps makes them only all the more fascinating to watch, especially as it makes you question if he was truly aiming to scare the audience or instead just take them on a visual journey.
Because of the surreal shooting style this isn’t a film that will suit all tastes, especially as it frequent lack of coherency or bizarre imagery will most likely frustrate the more casual movie viewer, especially when Obayahi feels no need to spoon feed his audience the answers and instead seems to put enough faith in his audience knowing what’s important to the plot and what is just visual flair / fluff. Unquestionably though this is one of the more original viewing experiences you can have, even if it’s doubtful that most will give it more than a single watch.