Monday, August 16, 2010

House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

Madcap, lipstick, tearaway, watermelon, impulsive, panties, capricious, diaphanous neckwear, haywire, and severed fingers. Hello, my name is Yum-Yum, while it may seem like I'm just randomly arranging words in a nonsensical manner, there's actually very little method to the madness. Bananas! Bananas! Trust me when I tell you that you don't want to know what kind of gimcrackery is germinating inside my ill-scented noodle on a regular basis. Well, this holds doubly true for Nobuhiko Obayashi, the director of House (a.k.a. Hausu), a film so captivated by its own dementedness, that it was like watching someone repeatedly gratify him or herself with an overactive thyroid gland set on stun. Now, you'd think that the fact that the original story idea was thought up by Nobuhiko's 11 year-old daughter, Chigumi Obayashi, would remove some of the brainsick away from him. But that's not the case here. In fact, making a film based on something that came from the imagination of a little girl is not only the definition of unhinged, it's part of Lithuania's constitution (I think it's called the "crazy little girl" clause or the "mažas psichiškai mergaitė" situation).

Once you've caught a glimpse of what it's like inside the head of a little girl, your outlook on everything from the weather in Flin Flon to maraschino cherries will be forever altered. You're probably thinking to yourself: "What about a little boy? What do their puny, lice-ridden heads bring to the table?" Okay, since I owned the head of a little boy during a smallish increment of time back in the, oh, let's say, early 1920s, I can tell you, that particular head was filled with nothing but mindless violence, degradation, and the music of MC 900 Ft. Jesus. In other words, the building blocks of a movie no insane person would ever sit still to watch from beginning to end.

A little girl, on the other hand, thinks about rainbows, drowning in cats blood, and being eaten alive by everyday household items. And while some of those things may sound violent in nature, they're not anti-intellectual. Every inch of House is filled with exuberance and creativity. And not just that, it's done in a such off-kilter manner, that it constantly challenges you to decide whether the weirdness transpiring on-screen is intentional or unintentional.

I'd say the that majority of the weirdness was intentional. But there were a few instances here and there that caused me to think otherwise. Like, for example, the use of music throughout the film was so incompatible at times, that I knew that there had to be some sort of cultural communication breakdown taking place. That being said, I thought the music was ultra dandy, especially during Kunfû's pantie-centric action scenes.

If Kunfû's name sounds an awful lot like the Chinese material art known internationally as "Kung-fu," well, that's because her name is Kung-fu. You see, all the names of the female characters reflect their behavioural disposition. As you would expect, the aforementioned Kunfû/Kung-fu (the beautiful Miki Jinbo) likes to kick things and is very gung-ho when it comes to performing physical tasks; Merodî/Melody (Eriko Tanaka) is musical; Sûitto/Sweet (Masayo Miyako) is, actually, I couldn't quite figure out what her thing was (she was sweet, I guess); Matsuku/Mac (Mieko Satoh) enjoys food; Gari/Prof (Ai Matsubara) is the brains of the group; Fanta/Fantasy (Kumiko Ohba) lives in a world of her own creation; and Oshare/Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) is always applying makeup.

While each of the girls gets their moment to reflect light in a positive fashion, it's Gorgeous's story that makes up the heart and soul of the film. Unhappy that her film composer father has decided to remarry, Gorgeous invites all her gal pals to spend the summer at her Aunt's house in the countryside. And since nothing in House is done in a conventional manner, every second of their journey is laced with whimsy, colour, and verve.

Greeted warmly by her wheelchair bound Aunt (Yôko Minamida), Gorgeous and the gang make themselves at home. While the girls witness some mild weirdness at first (a shard from a chandelier impales a lizard and Auntie seems to disappear in the refrigerator), the intensity of weirdness slowly reveals itself to each character whenever they happen to be isolated from the group.

Fantasy is bitten on the bum by a severed head she thought was a chilled watermelon, Sweet is attacked by bedding materials, Melody becomes immersed with a dusty piano, Kung-fu uses her appetizing legs to fight off cords of wood, and Gorgeous has a run in with an evil mirror.

Did I mention that Gorgeous has brought along her white cat, Blanche? A cat who is somehow able to meow without even opening its mouth, Blanche's furry visage is an omnipresent characteristic of this film. If you happen to in the same room with Blanche and her eyes start glowing green, you're about to experience some seriously kooky shit.

Speaking of shit, I think I might have actually mouthed the expression "holy shit" at least twice during the film's spry running time.

A fragment of cinema that is tantamount to being trapped inside Wink Martindale's overstuffed colostomy bag without a trustworthy pair of legwarmers, House will envelop the nipple-covered nub of your very existence. The sheer power of its aggressively outre point of view will invigorate those who want movies to do more than just massage the front part of their face. A unique, shamelessly bizarre, once in a lifetime viewing experience. Watch it with your eyes, if you dare.

video uploaded by janusfilmsnyc



  1. I think I uttered "holy shit" much more than two times while watching HOUSE! It's an excellent, imaginative, crazy as hell film and I loved every second of it. Good point on the question of intentionality with some of the extreme weirdness... I'm still unsure.

    I didn't realize the story was inspired by his young daughter's idea, but that does sort of explain its zany structure.

    And Kung-fu! Everyone's favorite character!

  2. I have heard good things about this one. Netflix doesn't have it, and the Criterion DVD comes out late October. :-(

    Poor Suito. Sweet is such a small foundation to build a personality on.

  3. Oh, I just saw Salomé's Last Dance is on Hulu, but not sure if that is Canada friendly.

  4. Alex : Yeah, there's no way I uttered "holy shit" only two times, it must have been at least six or seven.

    Normally I would classify the weirdness in House as your typical Japanese kookiness. (Tetsuo, anyone?) But apparently they even think it's totally demented.

    I'm not surprised. Kung-fu is super-terrific.

    Darius Whiteplume: Maybe House will be my first Criterion purchase... Anyway, I saw it on the big screen during its week long run in T.O. back in late July.

    Hulu hates Canada. :(

    Thanks for keeping an eye out for Salomé's Last Dance. You're very mensch-like in that regard.

  5. There is too much goodness in this review. You should publish this stuff. I don't where to start to comment. I guess the obvious place would be with the cat, since I'm one of those crazy cat ladies.

    I love the word "tantamount."

    Jeopardy! repeats do suck. :(

    Responding to your previous comment:
    No visit to North Tonawanda. I don't know if I've ever been there, but I can't say it's on my bucket list.

    I think the Front 242 fan did wear sunglasses, but it was sunny most of the time. You can imagine him wearing a leather jacket, but he didn't.

    XTC had one hit? In Canada?

  6. Thanks, K.A. If I did, I'd have to make sure my Lithuaian was up to snuff. Which I don't think it is.

    The cat in House is a definite scene stealer.

    Weird. For awhile there it was "equivalent," but I changed it to "tantamount" at the last minute. Anyway, yeah, "tantamount" rules.

    I hate it when I answer a clue wrong twice.

    Despite the fact that I find their car dealership ads to be super annoying, I'm sure North Tonawanda is delightful.

    Apparently XTC's "Dear God" flirted with the charts back in '87.

    The American Billboard chart was the only chart that mattered according to VH1, so having multiple hits in Canada (Men Without Hats) or Japan (Swing Out Sister) didn't mean dick to them.

    I just thought it was unfair to lump a quality band like XTC with the likes of Don Johnson, Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, and Rodney Dangerfield.

  7. Hausu plain and simply alienates me. I caught this one on IFC a few years ago. The local Midnight Movie Madness screened a 35mm print last month. It seems that same print has been circulating venues for a tick. My love for Hausu is so tremendous, that I put much stress on my brain, having to be at work within minutes of the credits rolling[that particular screening]. Sweet read.

    Oh, I noticed you likened Hausu to Tetsuo? Although both kick copious amounts of arse... I'm unsure that any movie could exist and be on par with the two. Just saying.

  8. Thanks, reptilian Pig

    "kick copious amounts of arse"

    Well put. :)