Movie Review: 'Hausu' (House) (Japan, 1977)

Hausu is a surreal, candy-coated specter of a haunted house movie. The film presents several characters through shattered mirrors and crooked window panes, but that's just the beginning of Hausu's bizarre juxtapositions.

Hausu (1977) was directed by Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi. Today it's an obscure legend of weirdness in cinema (the copy I viewed is available from All Clues. No Solutions!). And rightfully so - the movie is a manic spasm of color and storytelling told with one experimental film technique after another. Animation, mattes, collage, ghost cats: this film's got it all.

(Notice Andrew Wyeth's 'Christina's World' on the wall. The enigmatic portrait of a young girl's inner life is the perfect fit in this context.)

The film follows seven teen girls on their trek to the titular teen-girl-eating house and its resident ghost Aunt. Not since A Tale of Two Sisters (rent it now) have I seen such a disturbing portrayal of feminine familial roles gone berzerk. Maternal love plus sisterly affection multiplied by tragedy equals the mother haunting the aunt haunting the daughter haunting the six doomed BFF's. It's a real can of worms. Ghost worms on acid.

Most of Hausu defies comprehension; go ahead and try to assemble the puzzle pieces presented by each symbolic representation of the white ghost cat Snowflake, but you may find yourself distracted from your task as soon as several disembodied fingers begin to stab out the film's umpteenth rendition of its melancholic theme tune on the keys of a grand piano.

According to this eloquent review at Teleport City, director Obayashi "came to Hausu from a background in television advertising." It makes sense, given the film's saccharine palette and characters so sunny, you'll wonder if the actors stumbled onto the set of Hausu from a Downy commercial shoot at the studio next door. The score, too, is a fucked-up collage of naughty and nice. Dreamy melodies are juxtaposed with jarring, overlapped tunes of discord. And seagull shrieks.

Hausu is an intoxicating visual jaunt. It's a womens' deodorant commercial as imagined by Dali and Argento. Each minute is packed with ten things you've never seen before. And things you've never seen before seem rather hard to come by these days, don't they?

Hausu (House) Trailer

Infamous 'Piano Scene' from Hausu (House)

For a near-traumatizing dose of contemporary haunted house cinema, go watch The Orphanage.

In other movie news, what the fuck were they thinking?



Violent Bullshit Flyer 2: Toshi's Turn

Juvenility is their modus operandi. Read my post about their recent debut.


Logo Design & Frank Olinsky

Lately I have been doing a great deal of logo design (two new ones will be up in the Magnetic State portfolio soon). I often reflect on the stories behind successful logos like the Citibank logo (designed by Paula Scher, you can read the story behind it in her book Make It Bigger) and the MTV logo, designed by Frank Olinsky and his now defunct firm Manhattan Design. The talented Mr. Olinsky is a former Parsons professor of mine and you will doubtlessly recognize some of his work including the covers of Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation.

The story behind the design of the MTV logo is posted here. It's an exciting story about a designer's dream job. Frank's brainstorm process with his colleagues sounds like it was a true team effort. The logo became a ubiquitous symbol for the revolutionary music channel. The logo itself was revolutionary because it had no standard 'corporate colors' and could be dressed up differently as long as the basic outlines were preserved (much like the Google logo is treated now). According to Frank's tale, "knowing that many animators, designers, ad agencies, etc. were going to be working with the logo made [the Manhattan Design team] think how, just like rock music always changes, the MTV logo should also. This was a concept that had never been used on a logo before."

One cool thing I bumped into on Frank's blog was LP Cover Lover (he did their logo), a blog about record covers. I dare you to look at this record and not murmur "ho-lee shiiiiit" like I did.

Here is a Spraygraphic interview with Mr. Olinsky.


Evolution of a Studio Logo

Every time I watch Lon Chaney as Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man (happens roughly monthly), I drool over this vintage Universal Pictures logo from the 1940's. The spinning stars, shimmering mirrored ball, and art deco type all contribute to the overall dazzling effect. Call me nostalgic, but this is by far my favorite in the company's history (the worst is that 70's version that looks like it's got a layer of mold growing on it). Sometimes modernity kills quality.

Universal 75th Anniversary Logo: Combines 4 logos from over the decades.

Universal Logo - 1940's Edition


Violent Bullshit

The photo on this flyer is nothing short of miraculous. Is he seeing God or passing out? This tousled stumblebum is Jayson Green: Panthers frontman, mustache enthusiast, and wisecracking Photoplay cohort of mine (note his uncanny resemblance to Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces). Jay claims that his new hardcore band Violent Bullshit plays "loud, fast, and without ability." Our friend Toshi Yano is also in the band (check out Toshi's thoroughly underrated pop band Kapow!). View the shirt I designed for Panthers.

Click to enlarge.
Warning: viewing this show flyer up close may result in a contact high.


Sketchbook Page: 1987

This is a page from a very old sketchbook from my childhood. It's dated 1987. The cat in the drawing is Socks, who stepped out of our home in Jenkintown, PA one day and never returned. It's definitely my favorite drawing of those that remain from this time. Like most images on this blog, you can click to enlarge.


'Goodbye California'

My friend Cory and his band American Astronaut have a highly amusing 'video object' (as opposed to 'music video') up at their site (click on a dude to begin the video).


Good Idea of the Week

Refill Seven is a company that uses "laser technology to etch designs into a skateboard." The work is gorgeous and it unites a medium (skate decks) and a technique (woodburning) that you'd never expect to see together. These decks look great on a gallery wall but I'd also like to see one after a few days of gnarly grinds. This deck is by Ben Drury but view the site for decks by more artists including Pushead and Gunsho.


One of my favorite artists working today is Gunsho. He's a detail-obsessed master of the grotesque. Below is the 'Party Goblin' t-shirt he did for Threadless Select.


Book Cover Goodness 7/1/08

Today I noticed this book cover beaming bold as a beacon from the shelves of the Greenpoint Library. It's Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s Collected Poems 1956 – 1998. I just googled it and found it presented among many other beautiful covers in the best of 2007 at The Book Design Review. In terms of blackness, it's one step away from the cover of AC/DC's Back in Black (or, for that matter, that Spinal Tap record: Q: "Like, how much more black could this be?" A: "None more black.") The only thing that could possibly make it better is if the only light source was from the lit match (Caravaggio style). Book jacket by High Design. I also ran into this amusing article comparing Zbigniew Herbert to that tidal wave of similes known as Lil' Wayne.