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The reissue of “House” (“Hausu”) hurt my brain a little bit. The best description I can come up with for Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 psychedelic mind-fuck, is this, imagine if Sid and Marty Krofft made and “Evil Dead” movie. Obayashi based his feature length debut on an idea from his seven-year-old daughter. Sometimes I love kids, not often, but sometimes.
Bubbly Japanese schoolgirl Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) is psyched to spend summer vacation with her movie musician father (back from a recent stint working with Sergio Leone) in their villa. That is until he introduces her to her “new mother”, who walks in slow motion with a white scarf flapping behind her. Gorgeous throws a hissyfit as only a young girl can, and writes to her dead mother’s sister, who she hasn’t seen in a decade, asking if she can come visit her mansion. So Gorgeous and her six bestest friends in the whole wide world, Fantasy (Kumiko Obha), Prof (Ai Matsubara), Mac (Meiko Satoh), Kung-fu (Miki Jinbo), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), and Sweet (Masayo Miyako), all hop a train to the country.
The character’s names are shorthand codes for their personalities. Gorgeous is the pretty one. Prof is the smart one. Fantasy makes shit up. Kung-fu is the badass. Melody is the musician. Sweet is sweet. And Mac is the fat one that likes to eat. So just in case you weren’t sure about one of the girls, refer to her name and you’ll know all you need to know about them.
Strange things are afoot in the country, and I don’t just mean the fat guy who carves watermelons to look like jack-o-lanterns. Sometimes Auntie (Yoko Minamida) is in a wheelchair, sometimes not, and she may or may not be a cannibalistic ghost. There is a flying severed head that bites someone on the ass, flying logs, and a creepy witch-cat that makes a piano eat one of the girls. Then shit starts to get weird.
“House” is like a fucked up episode of “Scooby-Doo”. One minute it is bouncy and perky and full of massive gonzo airbrushed backdrops, and the next a naked Japanese girl is drowning in a river of blood while a man turns into a pile of bananas. You can’t take your eyes off the screen or you’ll miss something truly nuts and awe inspiring.
Much of the film is borderline seizure inducing, like “Crank 2”. Lights flash, mirrors break and pour blood, ghosts show up and dress in wedding outfits, and that goddamned witch-cat is there every step of the way, with it’s flashing green eyes. There are even quick snippets of animation that is reminiscent of Ralph Bakshi’s films.
“House” is by turns campy and twisted and hallucinatory and lit like a 70’s soap opera. I go back and forth on whether I think this is supposed to be a kids movie or not. Parts of the film are obviously intended as fantasy for younger audiences, while other parts have more adult themes. If it is a kids movie it is of the ilk that is warped and drug addled enough that adults will enjoy it even more. And it is my favorite kind of children’s entertainment, the kind that isn’t afraid to scar a child for life by being completely insane.
Words don’t do justice to the bizarre nature of this movie. You just need to see it. That is the only way you will understand what I’m trying to say. In honor of the impending Criterion DVD release of “House”, scheduled for October, a beautiful new 35mm print has been making the rounds, so if you’re lucky it will come to your town. And if it does, run to the theater. Knock down an old lady if you have to, but be the first in line, it will be well worth the investment of your time and money.
Personally, I can’t wait for the DVD. Since it’s a Criterion joint I’m sure there will be all manner of in depth bonus features, and I for one want to hear people talk about this movie. I don’t care who it is, I just want to hear someone, anyone, try to justify the decisions that went into making this film. That alone should prove entertaining.
I walked out of the theater shaking my head thinking, man, drugs are awesome. The last time I had this much fun in a theater was at a midnight screening of “Wild Zero” ten years ago when they had to delay the start of the movie because most of the audience was drunk and waiting in line for the bathroom.
Nobuhiko Obayashi (director)/Chiho Katsura (writer)
CAST: Gorgeous … Kimiko Ikegami
Fantasy … Kumiko Obha
Prof … Ai Matsubara
Mac … Meiko Satoh
Kung-fu … Miki Jinbo,
Melody … Eriko Tanaka
Sweet … Masayo Miyako