International Horror Film Review: House (dir by Nobuhiko Obayashi)

The 1977 Japanese horror film, House, opens with a teenage girl named Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) who is excited about the start of summer.  Her father has finally returned home from Italy, where he was scoring a film for Sergio Leone.  (Supposedly, Leone said that her father was even more talented than Ennio Morricone!)  However, Gorgeous is upset to discover that her father has remarried and she has a new stepmother!  No longer wanting to be around her father, Gorgeous writes to her aunt and asks if she can spend the summer with her.  Gorgeous’s aunt (Yōko Minamida) agrees and invites Gorgeous to visit the country house where she lives with a white cat.

However, Gorgeous will not be traveling on her own.  She’s bringing six of her school friends with her!  Like Gorgeous, all of them have trait-appropriate names.

For instance, Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo) is athletic and good at kung fu.

Prof (Ali Matsubara) is intelligent and wears glasses.

Fantasy (Kumiko Oba) is a daydreamer.

Mac (Mieko Sato) enjoys eating.

Melody (Eriko Tanaka) plays music.

Sweet (Masayo Miyako) is …. well, sweet.

They’re all fun, cheerful, optimistic, and good-natured.  (They also all have a crush on their teacher, Mr. Togo (Kiyohiko Ozaki),  goofy fellow with sideburns and an old car.)  As soon as the girls arrive at Auntie’s house, they present her with a watermelon and then take a tour of the old house.  They all take the time to notice Auntie’s white cat, who is adorable but seems to have a little bit of an attitude.  Everyone’s happy and perky and it truly appears that this is going to be the greatest summer of their lives….

Of course, not everything’s perfect.  There are a few complications.  For instance, Gorgeous is still upset about her father remarrying and chooses to go off on her own. Mac goes out to the well and then doesn’t return.  However, her head is later seen floating around the house and biting the other girls.  One girl gets eaten by a clock.  Another loses her hands while playing the piano.  The piano then proceeds to eat the girl while Mac’s disembodied head giggles and says, “Naughty!”  Soon, there are body parts flying around all over the house and the downstairs is flooded with blood.  The cat, it must be said, appears to be rather amused….

I don’t know if words alone can convey what a strange movie House is.  This really is one of those movies that has to be seen to believed.  In many ways, it feels like a children’s film made by someone who really dislikes children.  Everything starts out very happily, with bright colors, frantic camera work, corny humor, and cheerful music playing in the background.  There’s even several incidences of deliberately crude, pop art-style animation sprinkled throughout the film.  Then the girls reach the house and suddenly, everyone’s screaming and there’s blood spurting everywhere and disembodies heads and other limbs flying around and yet, the tone of the film doesn’t change.  The music remains cheerful.  The humor remains corny, especially in the scenes involving hapless Mr. Togo and his attempts to rescue the girls, and the film’s special effects remains deliberately crude.  At the same time, there’s an interesting subtext to the film.  Gorgeous’s aunt is bitter over the death of her lover, who never returned from World War II.  When Gorgeous meets her new stepmother, the sky glows with an almost atomic intensity and one unfortunate character is literally vaporized into nothing.  The old house is literally eating the young, perhaps to punish them for being the first generation to be born after the end of the war and to have no firsthand experience with the twin traumas of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As I said, it’s a weird, weird movie.  It’s also an incredibly watchable one, one that comes very close to capturing the feel of a filmed dream.  It’s not for everyone, this oddly cheerful bloodbath.  But I’d still recommend watching it at least once.

3 responses to “International Horror Film Review: House (dir by Nobuhiko Obayashi)

  1. I own the Criterion disc and have watched 3 times since purchasing it a couple of years ago. As you say, it is a one of a kind movie and for all the blood, there is none of that grim Japanese sadism and misogyny that sometimes creeps into movies like this. I didn’t bother trying to search for meaning or even what the plot was about, but just enjoyed the ride. Some surprising and enjoyable nudity.


  2. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review — 9/30/19 — 10/6/19 | Through the Shattered Lens

  3. Pingback: International Horror Film Review: The Living Skeleton (dir by Hiroshi Matsuno) | Through the Shattered Lens

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