Friday, January 29, 2010

Film Review: HAUSU (1977, Nobuhiko Obayashi)

Stars: 6 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Yoko Minamida, Ai Matsubara, Miki Jinbo, Masayo Miyako, Mieko Satoh, Eriko Tanaka. Music by GODIEGO.
Best exchange: "Do you like watermelons?" –"No! I like bananas!" "Bananas!"

HOUSE cannot and should not be described. Many have groped wildly in the blackness to explain it using films and tropes with which we’re already familiar (i.e., Douglas Sirk, THE SHINING, acid trips, Dario Argento, Scooby Doo), but it’s something that simply needs to be experienced, as if a new color were added to the spectrum: “Oh, it’s kinda like gold, kinda like pink...but really, it’s neither of those all.

As such, words cannot possibly do it justice. And if someone tried to give you a mechanical rundown of events that occur in the film (as many reviewers have) the only purpose it would serve would be to water down (or worse, contaminate) your pure, unadulterated dosage of HOUSE. Thus, as I attempt the weighty task of ‘reviewing’ HOUSE, I shall speak in generalities, non-sequiturs, and filmmaking techniques- I wouldn’t dream of spoiling any of the film’s (many) mind-blowing setpieces. To avoid comparing it to other films, I would simply describe the HOUSE experience as akin to being trapped inside a kaleidoscope as a cackling madman rams and twirls and flips and submerges it with reckless abandon as upbeat music and ludicrous sound effects ricochet here and there and everywhere, dueling one other for dominance.


The director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, was well-known in Japan for being a virtuosic director of commercials- the most famous being a series of Mandom cologne ads starring none other than Charles Bronson (reviews forthcoming!). The man had learned the art of spinning sometimes three or four absurd narrative threads across a collage of candy-colored visuals and clashing music cues- for the thirty seconds it takes a commercial to run its course. So can you imagine what the fuck it’s like when he’s got the duration of an entire feature-length film to transform into his own personal maniac's playground? Boxes inside boxes, screens within screens, silent film irising techniques, stock footage, war film flashbacks (a mushroom cloud is whimsically compared to cotton candy), mind-boggling superimpositions, animation composites, stop-motion lizards, painted sets, odd frame rates, and CATS CATS CATS CATS CATS! (named Blanche). Characters don't catch fire- they BECOME FLAMES.

A painting vomits, a severed head bites an ass, a cat mews the main theme. No, this is not your mere garden variety lunacy.

As a side note, in my opinion, OB (Bronson's nickname for Obayashi) peppers the film with Bronson references. Characters frequently speak of how men used to be more manly, and why aren't you manly enough, etc.– seemingly in direct corrolation to the image of Bronson portrayed in Obayashi's Mandom commercials.

Furthermore, Gorgeous' composer father returns from a gig in Italy, bragging: "Leone said my music was better than Morricone's!" I wonder... I wonder if he could have been working on a Bronson movie? In the end, the only negative thing I can say about HOUSE is that Bronson does not grace us with a cameo.

For the drinking game inclined, feel free to give it a shot every time the cat's eyes glow green, or every time someone touches someone else's ass. Of course, if you do that, you may end up drowning in a sea of (imagined?) sanguinary cat vomit.

The HOUSE experience is astonishing, fantastical, and nearly overwhelming.


It truly and wholeheartedly transports you into an alternate dimension where a different set of cinematic rules apply, keeps you in a definite state of shock for the duration, and I can genuinely say that there's nothing quite like it. Thus, I highly recommend... HOUUUUUUUUSSSSE. Pass the bananas, mind the killer chandeliers, and give this thing six stars.

-Sean Gill

Availability note: HAUSU/HOUSE will supposedly be available to own on Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection by the end of 2010. For the region-free types among you, it's already available through Eureka's Masters of Cinema series.


HKFanatic said...

...bah ha ha ha. Oh wow, am I pleased to see "Hausu" as your review of the day. XD I swear I only learned of this movie's existence about, oh, two weeks ago? I really hope that Criterion gets moving on their release because after watching a film clip or two on YouTube, I am dying to see this.

It's a shame (and very strange) that the director's only other movie on Netflix is a late 90's take on "In the Realm of the Senses" called "Sada."

Anyhow: great review, great rating, great screen captures. I think my anticipation for "Hausu" has reached a fever pitch.

PS-think we may see a "Temple of Doom" review next week?

Sean Gill said...

Glad you enjoyed the review! I'd long wanted to see this film and was elated to hear it was getting a Criterion release. Then I was lucky enough to see it at the IFC during its one week run here in NYC, but it's touring the country over the next few months as well.

It's unfortunate there's just the one Obayashi film on Netflix- I may have to rent it, though it doesn't sound like one of his best. I'm more interested in such titles as HIS MOTORBIKE, HER ISLAND; SUMMER AMONG THE ZOMBIES; or the FREAKY FRIDAY- esque I ARE YOU, YOU AM ME.

And yes, keep your eyes peeled for a TEMPLE OF DOOM review: I'm going for a little nostalgia this week- hopefully I'll cram in some LETTER PEOPLE, INDIANA JONES, and maybe some CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURES.

Elizabeth said...

Housssssssssse! I have to say this is the best review of Hausu that I've read yet (and I read a lot before I saw it). You're right: people who try to describe Hausu's scenes only diminish their impact. This thing is too nuts! Think the kaleidoscope comparison is very warranted, also. And I'll have to check out those Bronson ads- I had no idea!

Anonymous said...

HOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSU!!! I saw it last night and you were spot on- a new favorite, for sure.