Nobuhiko Obayashi, whether intentionally or not, makes a bafflingly great Hallowe’en classic.
“I was alone all this time. Therefore I’ve started to entertain myself with all of you.”
Well. Where to start with this one?
According to a valid source, “The film company Toho approached Obayashi with the suggestion to make a film like Jaws”. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is absolutely nothing like Jaws.
It concerns a gaggle of oddly-named girls – Angel (or Gorgeous, depending on the release, played by Kimiko Ikegami), her best friend Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Prof (Ai Matubara), Mac (short for stomach, played by Mieko Sato), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Sweetie (Masayo Miyako) and probably more that I’ve forgotten, who decide to spend the summer staying at Angel’s aunt’s titular house. Angel had intended to spend the summer with her father (Saho Sasazawa), but after he brings home a woman he immediately dubs “your new mother” (Ema Ryoko), she decides he can go to hell and joins her friends. Also there’s a teacher (Kiyohiko Ozaki) who has the hots for Fantasy, because there really weren’t enough characters to begin with.
At first, the aunt seems gentle, if somewhat lonely. But as time goes on, increasingly bizarre things begin to happen, and the girls are slowly knocked off one by one and eaten, in just the strangest ways possible.
House was never made with the intention of being a quality film. It’s schlock through and through, but it’s really good schlock. What you have is a film that comes from a maker that understands his limitations. From the first frame to the last mind-bending scene, it’s very clear that Obayashi opted to create a memorable film, one with a unique visual style that would stay with the audience long after they finished watching it. The effects are bad, and purposefully bad, but made in a way that more or less excuses them. Anyone with terrible CG can say it was done intentionally, but more often than not the rest of these movies is shot as if it was a high-budget blockbuster, no matter how bad it is (I’m looking at you Sharknado films). Here, Obayashi embraces his style, creating a frenetic optic experience like nothing else. He scribbles on the frame, puts in weird, obvious backgrounds and shakes the camera around like a good experimental filmmaker should.
All of this visual energy is perfect, considering the story itself is nothing special. Once the remaining girls start piecing things together, it becomes quite interesting, even surprisingly tense in some areas. The death scenes are great, and break up some of the duller moments. We’ll have a few scenes of the girls being boring and talking and dreaming about boning their teacher, and then suddenly one of them gets murdered by futons, or devoured by a piano. Without any of this stuff, we’re left with a pretty standard haunted house story.
The actors are all fairly good, some more than others. Yoko Minamida is a lot of fun as the aunt, and steals the scene when she’s on. The girls are serviceable, as is the teacher – there’s nothing incredible here, but a lot of it is overshadowed by the sheer kookiness of it that you don’t notice. The girls were all unknown at the time, though I don’t think many of them got very big after this.
Not everyone is going to get the same level of enjoyment from House, either. How much fun you have is dependent entirely on how much you like this sort of thing. But regardless of your mileage, Obayashi’s effort and passion comes off strongly and is undeniably the selling point of the film. Over anything else, the result of this passion – its visual identity – is what sets it apart from other films and lets it stand out, which it does fantastically. Whether or not that’s your kind of film is up to you, but you can’t argue that it tries something different, and does it with flair. House is the sort of pulpy fun film you put on every Halloween, just to see your friends’ reactions.
Verdict: If you haven’t seen it, House’s unrelenting energy and off-the-wall bizarreness makes it definitely worth a watch.
Also known as: ハウス Hausu
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Angel – Kimiko Ikegami
Fantasy – Kumiko Oba
Auntie – Yoko Minamida
Keisuke Tôgô – Kiyohiko Ozaki
Kung Fu – Miki Jinbo
Sweetie – Masayo Miyako
Mac – Mieko Sato
Prof – Ai Matubara
Melody – Eriko Tanaka
Watermelon Farmer – Asei Kobayashi
Angel’s father – Saho Sasazawa
Stepmother – Ema Ryoko