Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
House is less a movie than an exercise in creativity, ambition, surrealness, as well as annoyance with occasional boredom. Consider that it had a first-time feature director in Nobuhiko Obayashi, soundtrack by folk-rockers Godiego, and a young female lead cast whose syrupy cute chemistry together probably could have been crystallized into the form of a House idol group for a one-off pop single. Even their character names are "hip", pointing to the character type they play: Oshare (which means "fancy" in Japanese) is the fashionable one, Kung-Fu is the athletic one, Mac (for stomache) is the glutton who's always eating and so on. With all of these elements, Obayashi could have made something plain: maybe a youth summer adventure film or maybe a coming-of-age romance story, or even horror. The fact that he chose "all of the above" resulted in House.
The premise is fairly simple: six female classmates, on their summer break, decide to spend some time at Oshare's aunt's old house in the country. As everyone knows, though, old houses have secrets and this one wants to literally consume them. What the film really about, though, is near free-form experimentation. Obayashi, it's said, had wanted to make his film one which would have audiences fall in love with film again. To this end, he and his crew pulled out all stops in producing a film that incorporates nearly every audio and visual effect possible, sometimes several happening at once. There is an abundance of bizarre story elements; for example, when one man literally goes bananas because he doesn't like watermelons. Genre boundaries are frequently crossed from teen film to horror to romance to action to comedy, you really can't guess what the film is going to spit out at you next.
Does Obayashi's grand experiment work though? Yes and no. House is literally a visual feast not unlike, say, Takashi Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris and Tetsuya Nakashima's Kamikaze Girls. However, also like those films, the experimentation can be a little too wink-wink nudge-nudge, a little too cute, and in some sequences, a little too tedious. Ironically, I found several of the scenes in which we learn more about the connection between the house and Oshare's aunt to just simply crawl. In contrast, though, there are also several very clever scenes: a sepia-toned silent film sequence explaining Oshare's family history, and Kung-Fu's several battle scenes were ones that stood out for me. Most of the scenes were filmed in studio sets, the use of mattes give the film an otherworldly feel. One scene showing Tokyo Station, normally one of the most common sites in Japan, was especially surreal and somehow beautiful at the same time.
House did very well upon its release in Japan and one thing's for sure is that this is one of the films that's usually on most Japanese cult movie fan's want list. Seeing as the film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and that it can still manage to be fresh, interesting and bizarre in today's film scene actually says a lot. It's not a film for everyone and it will reward as much as it frustrates but it's a recommended watch, even if only just once.
The trailer was this week's "Trailer of the Week" and can be seen here.
Review copy obtained through allcluesnosolutions.com and located here in their catalog.