• House (Hausu)

    Released by: Eureka Entertainment
    Released on: February 12, 2018
    Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
    Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    I don’t use the expression “words fail me” much these days unless I’m reading a news story about the latest jaw-dropping development out of the Trump White House, but after my first viewing of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s phantasmagorical horror-comedy cult classic House (Japanese title: Hausu), it’s quite challenging to properly interpret the signals my brain is attempting to transmit to my fingers. For your sake, dear reader, I shall do my best.

    Hoo boy, where to start with this flick? The studio that funded this indescribable celluloid fresco of fun and fright was none other than Japan’s famous Toho – the same company that also gave the world films from Akira Kurosawa, the animated delights of Studio Ghibli, and the legendary Godzilla franchise. Toho had approached Obayashi, until then an experimental filmmaker with many short works under his belt, to develop for them a narrative genre feature that could do the kind of box office business that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was doing all over the world. He chose his daughter Chigumi, not even a teenager at the time, to collaborate with him on writing the story since she could come up with the kind of madly delightful ideas that would look fantastic on screen and dazzle the audience so much they wouldn’t be preoccupied with trying to explain them. Chiho Katsura was then tasked with fleshing out the Obayashis’ ideas into a filmable screenplay.

    House definitely looks like a movie written in part by an impressionable kid with no regard for logic or commonplace narrative structure, and Obayashi felt free enough of the constraints of conventional storytelling to indulge his artistic side in every single scene. The only basic aspect of the film is its set-up. Having originally planned to spend her summer vacation with her film composer father (Saho Sasazawa), teenager Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) decides against that after he brings home his new wife Ryoko (Haruko Wanibuchi). Instead, she chooses to vacation at the isolated country home of her aging aunt (Yoko Minamida) and brings along six of her school friends – Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), Kung-Fu (Miki Jinbo), Prof (Ai Matsubara), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), and Mac (Mieko Sato) – for what should a fun and relaxing escape.

    Once they arrive at the house, the strangest things began to occur, and there is an even stranger explanation for why Gorgeous’ friends are disappearing one at a time.

    I feel like if I elaborated on the plot any further, that would be ruining what is one of the most bizarrely entertaining horror films to emerge from any nation. In the case of House, it was rarely screened outside of its native Japan (where it was a solid hit in theaters thanks to the more appreciative younger audiences) until a decade ago when it started to play film festivals and specialty movie houses around the globe. The prestigious Criterion Collection released it on Blu-ray in the U.S. in late 2010, exposing adventurous film geeks to a mind-melting experience for which they could never fully prepare and ensuring that the film’s cult following would never cease growing in the years to come.

    Watching House for the first time, I could certainly understand how it struck a chord with viewers who spent many a lonely weekend evening perusing the shelves of their neighborhood video store for something far more exciting to the senses than the populist dross lining the walls by the hundreds. Even before it becomes a freaky-deaky living nightmare whose visual madness seems to escalate with each scene, Obayashi has a ball transforming the heightened reality of the story into his personal plaything. There isn’t a stop the director doesn’t pull out, using every in-camera and optical effect trick in his arsenal to make the most mundane occurrence into high cinematic art. In the first act alone, there are sped-up slapstick comedy beats, cut-out animation and rear projection footage in the background of the action, and flashbacks presented in the form of rose-and-sepia-toned silent newsreels. If your eyes dare leave the screen for a second, you stand a good chance of missing something truly memorable.

    Everything about House is stylized to the stratosphere. The female characters are so broadly drawn and full of energy and optimism that they’re practically anime heroes, right down to their personality-defining names like Fantasy (she’s a dreamer), Melody (she can play music), and Kung-Fu (she knows Kung-Fu), and the actresses chosen for those roles bring the right amount of sweetness and spunk to their performances without coming across as annoying or unlikable. The original score composed by Asei Kobayashi and Mickie Yoshino adequately conveys the sad and surreal nature of the story without telegraphing emotion with sledgehammer nuance – that job is taken by the selection of cheeseball Japanese pop tunes destined to give you cancer of music taste. Yoshitaka Sakamoto’s cinematography is commendable for finding every conceivable angle to capture the lunatic heights the film isn’t afraid to scale, and the editing by Nobuo Ogawa and Shohei Hayashi’s intricately layered sound design further add to the unforgettable experience.

    Acting as his own special effects director, Obayashi makes the most of his limited budget to give free reign to his and Chigumi’s unrestrained imagination, conjuring an absolutely bonkers array of horrors to menace Gorgeous and her unsuspecting friends. It’s just a shame that he didn’t come up with a stronger story to link these visuals and ideas together in a way that would have made a greater emotional impact. Obayashi plays around with themes of love and loss while never fully committing them, especially once the bonkers third act gets rolling. At least he is able to unite his visual and narrative sensibilities for a finale that goes off the rail in an appropriate manner.


    House makes its Region B Blu-ray debut courtesy of Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The company first brought the film to DVD in 2010, with the Criterion Collection issuing its own highly-acclaimed Blu-ray later that year. Presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio in full 1080p resolution, the high-definition transfer was likely the same restored master prepared by Toho that originally appeared on the Criterion release as both are identical to each other. House was shot on 35mm film, and upon its processing, Obayashi had the ratio cropped to full-frame as it was his preference, so the cinematography was probably composed for the 1.33:1 frame in order for there to be no loss of information.

    The transfer is clean and boasts blazingly vibrant colors and deep, visible black levels. Instances of dirt and debris have been stripped away and only the slightest imperfection in the condition of the original film elements used for the restoration can be glimpsed if you’re eagle-eyed. Anyone who has ever seen the film via muddy bootlegs or flawed past official releases will marvel at the richness of the reinvigorated texture and detail in every frame. I can’t imagine House looking any better than this.

    The 24-bit Japanese PCM 2.0 audio track offers a recreation of the film’s original 4-track stereo mix in linear sound, and the quality is as good as it likely will ever be. Limitations enforced on the film by the budget and theatrical exhibition standards of the era are the obvious culprits of House’s active sound design feeling boxed in and muted by being confined to a standard dual channel track, but the dialogue, music, and sound effects are mixed together with decent results and each element never threatens to overwhelm any of the others. Distortion is minimal at the track’s worst, and that’s only when things really get crazy at the halfway point, while the volume levels rarely necessitate manual adjustment. Optional English subtitles have also been provided.

    Held over from Eureka’s 2010 DVD is a lengthy (89 minutes) collection of interviews with director Obayashi, his daughter/co-writer Chigumi, actress Oba, and Toho promotional executive Shoho Tomiyama that were conducted in 2002 for the 25th anniversary of House. The discussions cover a vast array of relevant topics, from the project’s origins to the casting and filming to the final film’s release and the studio’s marketing efforts that helped make it a box office hit in spite of negative reviews from critics. New to this edition is “Unheimlich Manoeuvres in the Dark” (26 minutes), an insightful video essay by Scottish film writer David Cairns that breaks down the experimental filmmaking approach Obayashi brought to House, character development, the importance of the music score, the shifting tonality, and more. The extras conclude with the original Japanese trailer (2 minutes).

    Eureka has also supplied a 44-page collector’s booklet featuring a 2009 essay about Obayashi and the making of House by Paul Roquet illustrated with color stills and poster art from the film, viewing notes, and disc credits. The Criterion edition has a much different slate of extras, so die-hard fans might find Eureka’s supplements selection more than worthy of a double dip.

    The Final Word:

    Your first viewing of House will require the suspension of more than your disbelief, but if you willingly surrender your expectations before pressing the Play button, you might find yourself entertained, enthralled, and utterly bemused by Nobuhiko Obayashi’s hallucinatory horror show. The film defies conventional categorization and bless its cheery, campy soul for daring to be something different in genre cinema, even if the plot has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. With its stunning video and audio quality and extensive bonus features, Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Region B Blu-ray edition comes highly recommended if you don’t feel like importing the Criterion disc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I have never seen this. I should.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Yes you should.
    1. Koukol's Avatar
      Koukol -
      I really like this film with all its cheap effects and most important... originality.
      Japan has always had an attraction to all things youth orientated to the point of being a little pervy.
      This movie fits perfectly with the sugary Pop inspired Punk and now Heavy Metal they love.
      Yes, they now have a new genre called Babymetal.
      Youtube is full of videos.
    1. cmeffa's Avatar
      cmeffa -
      I have always wanted to see this. I remember it being listing in the grey market video catalogs from back in the 90's.