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 things....at 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.
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.