Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Written by: Chiho Katsura (screenplay) and Chigumi Obayashi
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Oba and Ai Matsubara
Reviewed by: Josh G.
“Any old cat can open a door. Only a witch cat can close it.”
When I first watched the trailer for House on Youtube over a year ago, I knew that I had to see it. Japanese horror films of recent years were never really my thing of interest, but one that included flying heads and hungry pianos was about to give me a new outlook on the craze. As if the preview wasn't ludicrous enough, it turned out that the entire film was one big quirky scene after another, with odd editing and transitions throughout. It's the kind of movie where the story is of little importance for most of the running time, while the execution of the story is pretty much why everybody is tuning in. Psychedelic school girls in the countryside where anything can happen. Just how far does this horror comedy go for its laughter? And more importantly, does its fantastical world become drained by the end with too much silliness? Or does the 'crazy' continuously offer something new?
Gorgeous (Ikegami) and her father are supposed to head off together for a vacation, but when she finds out that he has a 'new mother' for her, she throws a tantrum! Her real mother is dead, and life just isn't as it used to be. Writing to her Aunt, she receives a heartwarming agreement letter that she can bring her six friends and teacher with her when she goes on the trip to her house. Arriving at the house, the self-explanatorily named Fantasy (Oba), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Prof (Matsubara), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), big-eater Mac (Mieko Sato), Gorgeous and Kung-Fu (Jinbo) start to witness nonsensical events. Why did Fantasy's camera jump out of her hands? Did hair just crawl up Gorgeous' back? Did the weird Auntie just walk into a refrigerator? And why is Mac's head in the well? Perhaps it has something to do with that white cat Blanche, but by the time the young women will be able to figure out what is happening, it may already be too late!
A haunted house movie? I suppose so, even with the hilarity. Auntie's home is a beautiful old fashioned juggernaut of a place with many spooky rooms and dancing clicking cadavers. My personal favorite character is Kung-Fu, a tough-ass chick with her own theme music, in addition to the classic catchy score of the whole feature that appears to be played at least every two minutes by some instrument or another. A scene where flaming firewood attacks poor Kung-Fu only to end up chopped themselves shows why the girl has been given the memorable nickname. Things like random shrieking birds flying by and chandelier shards striking lizards add to what is to come. Auntie is also a very creepy character, keeping such a high level of confidence while the cheerful cast unknowingly ventures deeper into supernatural trouble.
The naivety of the cast makes for a lovable and relatable batch of kids with one for everyone to root for. And the gore is as fun as it is sick, with some of the weirdest murders ever thought up. Who ever thought up of a death by pillows and blankets? Or better yet, the morphing of a human into bananas? The river of blood is also a beautifully created set piece, though all of the wacky ideas inside are a highlight to House's power. The reason one should see it is because of its dreamlike quality and unique experimental style without actually being classified as simply an experimental film like Eraserhead. The best way to sum up the film is that it's Scooby-Doo in Japan with an evil cat and hungry Aunt who wants to eat the gang for energy. Only, it is also a drugged up hallucinating teenager's nightmare. And if you thought the aunt in Sleepaway Camp was bizarre, the step-mother in House is a nice addition to the weird performances by females category.
Though the obviously painted landscape and skies, plus use of a green/blue screen date the film, the charm comes from it as well. Who can resist the funky 70s fashions and tunes? The treatment of a student-teacher relationship and noodle-serving bear as normal will give you another hint as to what it involves. One of the most beautiful adventures I've seen, House can be found on a Criterion DVD or Blu-Ray. It looks and sounds like something you would usually get from them, meaning gorgeously restored. Pun intended. Extras include a forty minute 1966 experimental film by the director, which is even weirder than the feature presentation, a video on the making of House, the trailer, and a House appreciation video by Ti West (House of the Devil).
As weird as the original film is, there is a feeling of purpose in it. Depending on what you take from it, you could probably see different meanings behind it. But whether you are trying to interpret the growing up and loss of innocence in a young woman, or just sitting back and watching the technically astounding wave of absurdities coming at you left and right, it's a movie that you have to see. I want to tell you more. There is loads more to see. However, I will stop here, because there is nothing more to talk about. You don't read about House. You watch House, because it's a visual masterpiece with more 'what the fuck' moments than almost any other feature film you will sit down for, as for its purity in capturing both the feel of childhood and the destruction of it. There were few in the world that had heard about it until it was announced for a special DVD release. Now, it is a phenomenon, and without a doubt the most fun I've had watching a film in years. Completely Essential!
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