Friday, February 26, 2010
Belated HAUSU (1977) Review
It's actually been about a year-plus since I first (finally) experienced Nobuhiko Obayashi's HAUSU via an imported dvd, and will come clean by admitting that this has easily been one of the more dreaded reviews I've ever had to write. Well, is this film bad? Goodness in the universe, NO. In fact, the complete opposite reaction is apt to even remotely describing my views on this much overlooked, underseen manic masterwork. The core reasons why this writeup has so long eluded me is something a little tougher to elucidate, because in its most simplistic of answers, HAUSU is defiant in nearly every respect to description. Defiant in regards to what it truly is, defiant in regards to how the masses, no matter the generation would ever be viewing it. It is simply in a category all its own, and dares anyone in its path to sum it up in any simple. label-ready manner. And considering the international success of latter films such as RINGU, JU-On, and others, it will go down in the history of hidden shame that the world didn't embrace this film, even as some kind of bizarre curio centerpiece for gonzo cinema. HAUSU is truly that unique, and then some.
The framework (rather than simple story) is that the lovely young Oshare(Ikegami Kimiko) upon news that her widowed father would soon be remarrying, decides to take a trip to the hills to spend some time with her aunt(Minamida Yuko), who's wealth, and reclusive tendencies have had her living within a lonely old house, far from prying eyes. Along for the trip are her classmates whom have names that singularly describe their respective personalities. There's Maku (Sato Mieko), who loves eating, Suiito (Sweet), the requisite "moe" element, Melody(Tanaka Eriko) , the musician, and yes, Kung-Fu (Jinbo Miki) & Fanta (Ohba Kumiko). When upon finding grandmother's country home, we are already host to a surreal, cartoon world that clearly is meant to imply the universal nature of these simple characters. Because when we realize that the house in question is in fact possessed by a malevolent force, matters of simple horror are exaggerated to levels of absurd that the film teeters beyond simple parody, and into a heightened art level that is sheer audio-visual hyperbole, out to devour all who stand to survive the night.
Whether it be via the inanimate, home animals, and even those once thought to be trusted, nothing is as initially presented, and comes with a menace unrivaled in film anywhere else. Where most genre films decide to hit the brakes, HAUSU pushes past, goes for broke, and leaves one dizzily wanting more.
Using all the means at his disposal, commercial director, Obayashi sees his debut film as a chance to let loose in the most literal sense of the expression. And in an astonishing reminder of the times in which it was made, the TOHO studios actually accommodated these desires.(That , or just didn't notice until release. Can only imagine what that must've been like.) His aggressive use of animation, bleeding pastels, experimental filming, editing, and analog weirdness is enforced as if at war with the very notion of film itself. Punk-horror at its most definitive. And even this seemingly random barrage of assaults does not gloss up the almost fetishistic idolization of his heroines, who are clearly the film's true focus. Pre-dating the heyday of Japanese idols, the film also serves as a celebration of young femininity at odds with the then-all-consuming notions of marital bliss, and the ostracism that comes without it. It almost carries a sort of double-edged logic that on one side praises the status-quo, but within the horror lies a seething sense that Post-War Japan had indeed created a land of domestic monsters residing within the very comforts of westernization.
Easily, many will compare the frenzied energy of this piece to films such as Evil Dead II(1987), and even Braindead (1992), but what is witnessed here is a delirious shotgun blast of a horror film that has a lot more on its mind than mere crowd-pleasing schlock. And even if Obayashi's latter films never reached the heights of this late 70s masterpiece (his movie version of Umezu's classic manga,The Drifting Classroom is a legendary misstep), it is clear that his immense talent is in full, unchained bloom here. It's like a fever dream brought on by one too many Yoo-Hoo's, cough medicine, laced with some of that famous punch everyone keeps talking about.
Now to even go further into what makes HAUSU so special would be to take away from the entire experience. Which is exactly as it should remain, a movie experience like no other that deserves multiple viewings to be fully appreciated.
This review was finally completed after news came that Janus films announced their showings of HAUSU in L.A. at the New Beverly, starting Friday, March 12th-the 16th before Criterion finally brings the film home to DVD. Either way, one can't lose, but I'll definitely will be in the crowd come March 12th, so I hope to see you there!