Nobuhiko Obayashi’s classic 1977 film, “House,” which is also known as “Hausu,” is a creative and dreamy psychedelic experience that has to be seen to be believed. What was supposed to be Japanese company, Toho’s answer to Spielberg’s “Jaws” became something entirely different. Sprouting from the imagination of Obayashi’s daughter, the film transformed into a bizarre creation truly of its own with use of a unique blend of practical and special effects, varied editing techniques, and beautiful set pieces. Originally panned by critics when it first got released in Japan for it’s absurdity, it has since gone on to become a cult classic among fans of Asian cinema all around the world, as well as many film critics today.
The story of “House” begins with a high school student named, Gorgeous, who is excited for summer vacation, which she has plans to spend with her father. However, upon returning home from school, she finds out that while he was composing music for a film in Italy, he had fallen in love with a woman, and has brought her back home with him to marry her. Angered by this, Gorgeous runs to her room and begins reminiscing over her mother who had passed away eight years ago by looking through old photographs of her. While looking through the photographs, she notices that her aunt is in one of the photographs, as well; it is then that she decides that she is going to write a letter to her asking for permission to visit since she has not seen her since she was a child. Soon after her aunt writes back, welcoming her, she tells her friends about what has happened, and they decide to accompany her on the journey to see her aunt in the countryside. Once there, the girls soon discover that what seemed like a fun getaway quickly turns into a game of survival for their lives.
Throughout the film, the viewer is greeted with a colorful and interesting cast of characters. The main girls all have distinct characteristics about themselves, and their names reflect that. Other than Gorgeous, the film features, Sweet, who is considerate and enjoys cleaning, Fantasy, who has an elaborate imagination and daydreams, Mac, who loves to eat, Melody, who is musically gifted, Prof, who is intelligent, and Kung Fu, who, as you probably have guessed, excels at kung fu. The antagonist of the film, Gorgeous’ aunt, referred to as Auntie, appears to be a frail and kind elderly woman at first who lives alone with her cat, Blanche, but as the film progresses, she turns out to be far more sinister as her plan for the girls unfolds. The film also includes an additional male character by the name of Mr. Togo, who is supposed to represent the girls’ knight in shining armor. All of these characters each bring an interesting dynamic to the table because of how different each of their personalities are, which helps keep the film fresh from scene to scene.
Just as vibrant as the characters of the film, is the beautiful aesthetic, which is fully showcased throughout the sets with stunningly painted backgrounds. Obayashi uses these set pieces to great effect to add a surreal element which is a theme that is constant throughout. One of the most beautiful scenes from the film that really pops is when Gorgeous returns home from school and runs into her father’s arms. The background features a spectacular painted sunset with both yellow and magenta colored clouds with rays of sunshine striking the set. This shot is shown from the outside of a glass panel looking through at the characters and scenery, which demonstrates some of Obayashi’s artistic camera angles.
As the film progresses, Obayashi uses a variety of interesting edits and techniques such as: freezing a frame while an object continues to move, slow motion, stop motion, quick cuts, as well as focusing on particular subjects. An example of the latter is when the girls are in the foreground talking, and Gorgeous is suddenly seen alone in the background. The camera then focuses on her, and a circle appears only around her body, while the rest of the screen turns completely black for a short moment. It is an unusual but effective option, along with the rest, which add more layers to an already diverse film.
Obayashi also incorporates chroma keying in a way that leads to both comedic and outrageous moments in the film. A great example is when Melody is playing music on an old piano, and suddenly, the tips of her fingers are missing with blood dripping from them. She then quickly finds herself being devoured inside of the piano, and one of her limbs is thrown into a fish bowl. The scene is pure madness, but is a perfect example of what “House” ensues as there are plenty of other moments in the film which are just as insane, from an attacking floating head to Kung Fu fighting firewood that come to life, this film is zany in spades.
The music of “House” features 70’s pop rock tunes from Japanese band, Godiego, as well as piano pieces from Asei Kobayashi, who worked with Obayashi in the past. Godiego’s music compliments the happy-go-lucky feel the film has in several moments, as well as nicely contrasting with the horror narrative to add a greater dynamic. The piano pieces are very well done, as they sound quite beautiful and give the film a special warmth of being together with friends and family, as this especially shows in the main theme that is played constantly throughout, which I was humming to myself long after the credits ended.
As I was watching this film unfold, I could not wait to see what would happen next, as the further along it went, the more maniacal things got, and I loved every moment of it. Obayashi does an excellent job by fusing together a film that has elements of horror, comedy, action, surrealism, and beauty wrapped up all into one incredibly satisfying package. “House” truly is a treat for anyone who is looking for a film that is unique, bizarre, and just plain fun.