Death and the Maidens

The other night I got the chance to see the 1977 Japanese film ハウス, or Hausu, alias House.

Screencap © 1977 The Toho Company Ltd.

Frankly, I'm not sure that I can tell you anything of import about it that the insane trailer doesn't — except to verify that while the movie does have a basic plot it actually lives up to that trailer's wildly abrupt shifts in scene and tone. Even if you don't think you'll ever see the film, I urge you to click through the link; House's trailer is a thing of sublime weirdness unto itself.

House was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi for The Toho Company. Chiho Katsura wrote the screenplay based on a springboard from Obayashi that incorporated ideas from Obayashi's daughter Chigumi. It looks roughly like a mashup of The Monkees, Scooby-Doo, and H.R. Pufnstuf made for Hammer Films... by the love child of Federico Fellini and Ed Wood... starring young Japanese women.

Gorgeous is looking forward to spending vacation with her widowed father, but he surprises her by stating that his new ladyfriend will be joining them: "She's going to be your mom," his subtitles read, all the more awkwardly blunt for the jaunty tone in his voice. "She's surprisingly good at cooking," he adds, "and other things." While it's obvious why Dad's high on New Mom, his daughter is having none of it, and so she heads out to her aunt's house for the school break instead — along with six of her classmates whose plans for some kind of training camp with the supposedly dreamy Mr. Togo have fallen through. Like Gorgeous the other girls have English-based names reflecting their personalities: Fantasy, or Fanta, who daydreams; Prof, a bookworm; Mac, who eats a lot (described as fat although she's nothing of the sort) and from her name presumably likes American fast food; Melody, the musical one; Sweet, who I suppose is particularly nice; and Kung Fu, who knows martial arts and is totally awesome.

I give away nothing by telling you that the aunt's house is haunted nor by describing all 88 minutes of the film as, pardon my transliteration, battoshito kureizii.

House wasn't released in America until distributor Janus Films began exhibiting it in 2009, with a Criterion Collection DVD release soon following. The DVD has among its extras a nearly 40-minute experimental film of Obayashi's from 1966 and a new 45-minute piece interviewing Obayashi, screenwriter Chihu Katsura, and the now-adult Chigumi Obayashi about House. Like the film itself the extras are available for streaming on Hulu Plus, whose partnership with Criterion I wish I both remembered and had time to take advantage of more often. I highly recommend seeing House in a group, however, be it on DVD with a viewing party or better yet in the theater if you're lucky enough to have a local art-house cinema and can get it screened.

Despite my interest in Japanese language and history, I've never possessed a particular bent for manga, anime, or kaiju eiga like so many of my friends, although I certainly appreciate them as part of an omnivorous pop-cultural diet. No amount of that stuff can prepare you for House anyway.

If you purchase Criterion's one-disc House DVD or Blu-Ray — or anything else placed in your cart during the session — through the links to Amazon in this paragraph, Blam's Blog may receive a small commission.


Arben said...

I have to see this movie.
Sorry to be so bad about commenting lately — I promise to do better when work lets up!

Joan Crawford said...

I hunted down some more clips on the Youtube and *eee* is that Creepy Dancing Aunt ever freaky! I watched a well-known Japanese surreal horror film about a decade ago and what I remember most (for whatever reason...) is the end scene where the guy ends up driving around town in a giant metal phallus.

Can anyone confirm that this isn't just a disjointed nightmare of my youth?

Joan Crawford said...

The movie is The Iron Man and he becomes a giant metal phallus, he doesn't drive one around (because that would be weird).

Here's the ending!

Blam said...

I had not seen that, Joan. What's so "funny" about it to me is that Japanese porn pixelates male genitalia, and there are (or were; I don't keep up with this stuff) people actually employed by the Japanese government to cut out explicit naughty bits from publications imported into the country, but a movie featuring a cyborg with a machine gun for an arm grafted to a giant motorized scrap-metal penis, y'know, sure.

Pornographic manga and anime are even weirder than the actual live-action stuff, too. [So I've heard, of course.]

And then there's "tentacle erotica"...

Blam said...

The main reason why I didn't link to the other clips of House on YouTube — well, aside from not wanting to support copyright infringement — was that the movie really does have to be seen in its entirety. I don't blame you for wanting to check 'em out, Joan, but trust me: As disjointed as it is, House's cumulative effect is way more than the proverbial sum of its parts.

You really do have to see it, Arb. If you haven't by September, I'll make it a birthday gift.