So, the other day my toothsome editor asked me if I wanted to dig into some olde tyme Japanese film and see if there was anything interesting I wanted to review. I said something to the effect of "Yes Master!. Master is a nice Master! Master blesses the earth and reigns with benevolence and wisdom." The first film he suggested was Hausu
(House), a 1977 horror/comedy from director Nobuhiko Obayashi. I had remembered talking about it with the Jtor staff a while back, but I'd never gotten around to actually tracking it own. It certainly looked like something right up my ally. (Check out the trailer below.)
I put it on my list of things to hunt down. I figured I'd have to put on my sneaking suit and plunge into the dark corners of the Internet in order to secure a copy. Imagine my surprise when only a day or two after our first conversation my local indie movie hut
announced that they would be showing Hausu
for one weekend only! What the what?
After checking around it turns out that Criterion will be releasing Hausu
in September, so I guess this makes a little more sense. The film is also being shown at larger venues in bigger cities, so I'm guessing someone is trying to create some buzz prior to the Criterion release. Regardless, the fates seemed to have aligned and last weekend I found myself spending a sunny afternoon sitting in a tiny, empty, clammy theater while really strange images (and a few boobs) flashed across my ocular nerves and squeezed out my brain juices.
All I knew about Hausu come from that trailer you see above. It looks like an over-the-top, low-budget crazy-fest created by a group of art students during a solid weekend of eating nothing but mushrooms and speed. That's more-or-less accurate, though it turns out that the people making it also happened to be very good at their jobs.
The plot is simple: The main girl Oshare (Gorgeous) wants to get away from her father and his new lover. Every year for summer vacation they normally go to the inn of a guy named Togo, but they can't do that this time. She and her six school-girl friends decide to go to her aunt's house instead.
Oh right, like Oshare the girls are named after their one-dimentional character trait. There is also Fantasy, Sweet, Professor, Melody, Mac (she eats constantly...Big Mac maybe?) and, my personal favorite, Kung-Fu.
The group takes a train out of town, a train filled with stereotypical characters like a nun, a sailor, hippies, some cowboys etc. You know, like you always see on a train in the Japanese countryside. A band sings a song at them (literally) along the way (an obvious try at a hit single.) While they travel Oshare tells the story of her mother and aunt during the war and how her aunt was unlucky in love and her mother won a man and got married. The story isn't actually told so much as shown like an old time film reel, with all the girls commenting as if they are watching it. One of them (I'm guessing it was Mac) describes the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima as "Oh, it looks like cotton candy!"
But I digress (easy to do.) Girls get to house. Aunt is old, white haired and in a wheelchair. There is a cat. It doesn't take long for things to get weird. (Things have already been pretty weird for the past twenty minutes.) Mac is the first to go, down a well after a watermelon. The house slowly goes nuts as the girls get separated one by one and others soon follow. Sweet gets turned into a doll (I think.) Melody is eaten by a piano, Kung-Fu fights, well, the entire house. Etc etc. I'm not going to ruin it for you.
Actually, I don't think I can ruin it for you. Obviously everyone dies, but that's not the point. The point is how they die. You see, the entire movie, right from the opening seconds, is absolutely crazy with effects and wacky visuals. Every shot is bursting with action and odd angles. The sound is insane. The piano tunes played almost constantly are like a form of water-torture.
Oh, I almost forgot. In one cut-away scene, Togo is on his way to the aunt's house. He stops at a ramen shop somewhere out in a black void full of howling wind. One of the other customers is a bear. A disembodied voice that sounds like a drunken Louis Armstrong mumbles along to a song. End scene.
None of this is done in a so-bad-it's-good way. This is just plain good. The people involved all knew exactly what they were doing and it's all done with a surprisingly high amount of skill. It's just that everything is so far-out that it seems like no one could have meant to do what they did. There are some people who love computer generated effects. As someone who owns two versions of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and watched them a dozen times, I guess I can count myself as one of their number. Yet there is still something more magical about seeing crazy in-camera effects well-executed. This is exactly what Hausu delivers. It absolutely must be seen.
This is a movie that must be seen with a huge group of friends. I was in a room with a grand total of two strangers, one of which left about ten minutes before the end for some reason. It was still mind-blowing but I always felt like I needed to turn to a friend and shout "What the hell just happened did you see that please tell me you saw that too?!" Hausu would make a great group event. And it's far too packed with content for just a single viewing. And that skeleton. Why was he dancing around in almost every scene?
Obviously it's impossible for me to adequately describe what I saw. It was magical and you need to see it. What more can I say?
Oh! Right. Some of the girls get naked.