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?


Unknown said...

Well! Thaaat's the most mind-boggling footage I've seen in a while-- Thanks! Great effing review!

Some interesting tidbits:

1) Van Gogh discovery. Fairly mainstream, but really cool and interesting nonetheless.

2) The Killing Joke. Holy shit. After experiencing The Dark Knight, I was inspired to reread this unparalleled Joker story written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland. My original copy went to the winds long ago, so I purchased the recently released Deluxe Edition, complete with Bolland's own recoloring of the book. The Joker has long been one of my very top favorite characters ever, and Heath Ledger's jaw-dropping transformation had me shivering in my seat, tense, sweaty, loving every second of it... and wanting more Joker. The Killing Joke delivered.

3)The short films of PES. After finding a link to his newest film, Western Spaghetti, I found the next half hour of my life consumed with these vaguely Gondry-esque (Gondrian?) candy-colored stop motion films where things are not what they seem. It's hard to pick a favorite of these seemingly simple yet endlessly creative (and time consuming!) films, but Roof Sex is pretty amazing. His artwork is gorgeous, too, and I'll bet you've seen at least one of his commercials. Enjoy!

Ahem. Comment at maximum capacity. Transmission end.

Majeska said...

i need to see this 1 movie!

Dan Redding said...

Thanks for the comments dudes! Jer, I love those PES videos, thanks for posting them. Beautiful stop motion (reminds me of 'The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb'... remember that one?). I love this one and hey look it's the darkest commercial I've ever seen (for TLC, no less!)

Yeah, I think Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger have helped make The Joker the greatest supervillain ever created. He makes Lex Luthor look like Jared the Subway Guy...