House (ハウス Hausu) (1977)
November 1, 2015 11:06 AM - Subscribe

"How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equally absurd and nightmarish, House might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet." Available on Criterion DVD & Blu-ray, Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video.

A joint post between the Strange Club and the Criterion On Hulu club. If you like movies like House, you will definitely find kindred spirits in the Strange Club. And every Monday, the Criterion On Hulu club posts a new film from the vast Criterion library available commercial-free to Hulu subscribers.
posted by Ian A.T. (14 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If the description intrigues you, the original trailer gives you a pretty good idea of what you're in for. And you've probably already seen a short clip from the film and didn't even realize it: the film is the source of this well-known GIF.

Also, a slight warning: there's some nudity featuring teenage characters (and, I believe, actresses) towards the end of the film. I hesitate to say that the nudity isn't prurient—because the fact is, it's pretty unnecessary and could have been left out—but the girls definitely aren't being explicitly sexualized and their nudity isn't tied to sexual activity. (If you're familiar with Madoka Magica, it's analogous to the nudity in the series finale; equal parts "I see what you're going for here" and "ugh can we just not.")

I don't think it's objectionable enough to merit a trigger warning, but I wanted to give you guys a heads up that it was there.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:37 AM on November 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hausu is the greatest!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 1:14 PM on November 1, 2015

Previously, on the blue
posted by baf at 2:13 PM on November 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

YES THIS MOVIE. Can't wait to get my viewing in tonight.

For Strange Clubbers old and new (join us!), here's the vote for the next viewing scheduled for 11/16.
posted by naju at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2015

All the artificiality really bugged me at first and then... something happened and the movie sucked me in, so to speak. I was expecting Dario Argento and what I got was a lot closer to John Waters filming a Grimm's Fairy Tale. I'm glad I stuck with it.

Was anyone else reminded of a memorable scene from last year's "Under the Skin" when Prof "dissolves" underwater? Apparently they used blue paint against red (?) to get that effect.

Hulu also has some valuable extras from the Criterion DVD. According to one of those extras, the biggest audience for this movie in Japan was kids 15 and younger. The adults didn't know what to make of it.

Thanks to Ian A.T. and the Strange Film Club for suggesting this film: I probably wouldn't have watched it otherwise (fraidycat).
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:15 PM on November 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, these are only available to Hulu subscribers:
Constructing a House (46 minutes)
A new video piece featuring interviews with director Nobuhiko Obayashi, story scenarist and daughter of the filmmaker Chigumi Obayashi, and screenwriter Chiho Katsura.

House Appraisal (4 minutes)
A video appreciation by director Ti West (The House of the Devil).
The first one is particularly good, and worth seeking out on the DVD or at least borrowing your coworker's Hulu login.
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:36 PM on November 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

OK so I completely hated this movie!

There were a lot of sort of interesting ideas and images here, which I see were apparently contributed by the pre-teen daughter of the director, but the whole movie, as a whole, felt like it was in service to basically... nothing. I mean, I am down for some weird imagery, don't get me wrong, but this just felt like a series of weird things with no meaningful theme or symbolism or really anything! I mean, I didn't fall asleep. And I guess it was sort of interesting to know that this had a serious theatrical run in Japan, but, yeah. It was like a novelty film with a bunch of mashed together images and no discernible mood or message.
posted by latkes at 1:21 PM on November 2, 2015

I do think the Scooby Doo comparison is apt.
posted by latkes at 1:23 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

This was my first viewing as well. I'd heard about this movie for years, but was waiting for just the right time to take the plunge, and this was also one of the rare times that I intentionally avoided looking up trailers or YouTube clips to maximize the effect. I think maybe I was expecting something along the lines of other Japanese horror comedies (Wild Zero, Tokyo Gore Police), but this wasn't quite like anything else I'd ever seen. At the very least, I can see why Japanese critics were baffled by it at the time of release, and also why its particular blend of scary/campy/arty tones has never been quite duplicated.

I found a lot to enjoy about the movie from the standpoint of postmodern aesthetics: The obvious soundstage exteriors, the general mixed-media approach to special effects, the way the girls riffed on the "archival" flashback footage, even the little action-movie theme that came up whenever "Kung Fu" did a flying kick at something. I appreciated the massive amount of intentionality that went into a lot of the individual shots, like how Gorgeous' father and stepmother were shown almost entirely behind that weird beveled patio window, or the way they filmed Sweet getting crushed by the futons through a glass floor made to look like a wooden floor.

The "Constructing A House" documentary short is definitely required viewing for those who have access to it. Learning that the film originally existed as a crazy multimedia pop-culture marketing blitz a couple of years before it even began shooting seems gloriously backwards to me, like if the Star Wars films had started out as action figures and Underoos before they even had a greenlight. And Obayashi strikes me as a filmmaker deserving of a certain level of cult approbation, and I'm curious to learn more about his overall career.

That said, there's also a ton of stuff brought up in the doc that they kind of bring up and drop, and I felt like more explanation was sorely needed. I understand that mid-70s Japan was a very different time and place, but I was still kind of boggled by Obayashi's approach to his young female actors. I don't want to make any intimations without anything to back them up, but I had a hard time telling whether or not certain aspects of the production (including but not limited to the sporadic nudity{1}) were just harmless Japanese cultural quirks or intended to be, in the words of one Don DiMello, "a little something for Daddy". I agree with Ian A.T. that the net effect isn't necessarily prurient, but I really had to let go of some of my baked-in assumptions to get there.

All in all, I'm glad I finally got a chance to watch (and discuss) this film, and I'm definitely curious about everyone else's reading of it.

{1} Which I definitely wasn't expecting, given what I knew of the film's reputation as a wacky Wonka-esque romp.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:13 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I mean, I am down for some weird imagery, don't get me wrong, but this just felt like a series of weird things with no meaningful theme or symbolism or really anything!

Oh man, I kinda felt that way the first time I saw it, but there is so, so much to unpack! The clearest symbolism is the cat puking rivers of blood, which may be the most epic and least subtle menstrual imagery in cinema. This discussion does a great job on touching on a bunch of themes and imagery. I think they're right that this is basically "an explosion of serious girl id" and deals with the coming of age and burgeoning womanhood of these girls. They are unmarried girls being chewed up in a world of deeply unsatisfying hetero domestic and patriarchial structures (the "house"). Obayashi dances around the rampant sexual themes and imagery but they're there for a reason. I think this is a bait-and-switch horror movie in the way Audition is a bait-and-switch horror movie - it presents itself as a girls' adventure story, feels like a sleepover, and distracts you with a bunch of goofy and campy stuff before going full bonkers, and hiding in plain sight is some fairly serious and subversive horror around becoming a woman in Japan. And then there's another element that is exploring this new post-WWII generation that doesn't really understand the devastation they've inherited.

I... love this movie deeply.
posted by naju at 10:56 PM on November 2, 2015 [13 favorites]

Well that was a thing. I can't remember seeing a movie that veers in tone so much.
posted by octothorpe at 7:19 PM on November 3, 2015

This seems like a film that a lot of filmmakers borrow ideas from. The movies of Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry and Edgar Wright all came to my mind while I was watching this.
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 AM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love this movie for its weirdness.
posted by graventy at 12:49 PM on November 5, 2015

I too was unsure about what I was watching at first. The cartoonish sets, saccharine music, and "genki" performances had me saying, "What?" I finally started to settle in and feel comfortable about what has happening about the time Gorgeous started seeing Blanche everywhere. Despite its quirks, I really enjoyed the picture.

I'm not so sure Obayashi set out to make the movie about the unfairness the lifetime employment system forced on the women of Japan, but I definitely see where you're coming from naju. Once you start looking for it, you can't help but see the imagery throughout the picture. Hell, Mac carries that watermelon in front of her for what seems like ages before they sink it in the well.

Obayashi was 18 when the Sun Tribe movies hit the scene in Japan. Much like the people of a similar age in the U.S., the Sun Tribe's disdain for the old ways was quickly subsumed by the need to get jobs and get married, but it never went completely away. I think it's clear Obayashi is a member of that generation given the contempt for tradition on display in the movie.

High school students in 1977 would have been born between '59 and '61, so they're conceivably the eldest children of the eldest of the Sun Tribe. Barring a few hiccups, they would have known nothing but peace and prosperity their entire lives. The Pacific War was ancient history to them, as is illustrated by the use of silent movie tropes for the wartime scenes that had happened in their parent's lifetimes. They're not even appropriately horrified by images of an atomic bomb explosion — "It looks like cotton candy," one of them giggles.

For all the progress in Japan during the preceding century, and especially the abolition of the ie household system during the occupation, the girls still wouldn't have had a lot of choice about how to proceed with their lives upon graduation. They would go to university, then perhaps work for a few years as an "office lady." Then they'd be expected to get married and have children. There weren't really other options.

The war babies of the Sun Tribe and their younger siblings in the immediate post-war generation wanted to buck tradition, but many of them deferred to their elders who still ran the country. Despite the best efforts of women like Mitsu Tanaka, the 1955 system and everything it had wrought, e.g. discrimination against women in employment, credit, housing, etc., held for another two decades.

Still, this movie is a far cry from the domestic dramas and period pieces that Japan had been famous for. This quote from the documentary made me laugh, “I didn't care if I was ridiculed. I wanted to make a film unlike any Japanese film before it. So I had to be selective about how I shot scenes. ‘Should I shoot this scene like this? Wait Kurosawa did something like that. No, Ozu did something similar. If Kurosawa or Ozu were to see it, what kind of direction would offend them the most? I got it. That's how I'll do it.’ That was my thinking as I made House.”

P.S. I feel like House (1986) owes a debt to this movie, even though the only similar element is a house owned by an aunt being central to the story.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

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