WTFW: House (1977)

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WTFW: House (1977)

Tonight we discuss something that for some reason holds a special place in my heart.  This is a movie that I have watched repeatedly since discovering almost three years ago.  This is a movie that isn’t just weird, it’s not just Japanese weird but it is weird even by the standards of an island nation of people who are used to weird movies and commercials.  Tonight’s movie is almost “Tom Cruise Crazy” and we will be trying something new by including a trailer of this mindblowingly odd film.

House is a 1977 Japanese horror film directed and produced by Nobuhiko Obayashi.  The film stars mostly amateur actors with only Kimiko Ikegami and Yōko Minamida having any notable previous acting experience.  The film is about a schoolgirl traveling with her six classmates to her ailing aunt's country home, where they come face to face with supernatural events as the girls are, one by one, devoured by the home.

The film company Toho approached Obayashi with the suggestion to make a film like Jaws.  Influenced by ideas from his daughter Chigumi, Obayashi developed ideas for a script that was written by Chiho Katsura.  After the script was green-lit, the film was put on hold for two years as no director at Toho wanted to direct it.  Obayashi promoted the film during this time period until the studio allowed him to direct it himself.  The film was a box office hit in Japan but received negative reviews from critics.  House received a wide release in 2009 and 2010 in North America, where it received more favorable reviews.


House (1977)

  • Original Title: Hausu ( ハウス )
  • Genre: Comedy – Fantasy – Horror
  • Directed: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
  • Produced:
    • Yorihiko Yamada 
    • Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
  • Written:
    • Chigumi Ôbayashi (Original Story)  
    • Chiho Katsura (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Satô, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi, Mitsutoshi Ishigami, Ippei Hara, Tetsuo Kanai, Shôichi Hirose, Yasuo Ônishi, Midori Naitô, Kiyoko Tsuji, Tomokazu Miura, Fumi Dan, Godaigo, Haruko Wanibuchi, Yôko Minamida
  • Music:
    • Asei Kobayashi  
    • Mikkî Yoshino
  • Cinematography: Yoshitaka Sakamoto
  • Editing: Nobuo Ogawa
  • Studio:
    • PSC  
    • Toho Company
  • Distributed:
    • Janus Films  
    • Toho Company  
    • The Criterion Collection
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date:
    • 30 July 1977 (Japan) 
    • 15 January 2010 (USA)
  • Running Time: 88 minutes
  • Country: Japan
  • Language: Japanese

In Japan, a young girl nicknamed Gorgeous has plans for a summer vacation with her father who had been in Italy scoring film music.  Her father returns home and surprises Gorgeous by announcing she has a new stepmother, Ryoko Ema.  This upsets Gorgeous as her mother had died years earlier.  Gorgeous goes to her bedroom and writes a letter to her aunt asking if she could come visit her this summer instead.  Gorgeous' aunt replies and allows her to come visit.  Gorgeous invites her six friends, Prof, Melody, Kung Fu, Mac, Sweet and Fantasy to come along with her.  On arriving at the aunt's house, the girls are greeted by Gorgeous' aunt to whom they present a watermelon.

After a tour of the home, the girls leave the watermelon in a well to keep it refrigerated.  Mac later goes to retrieve the watermelon and does not return.  When Fantasy goes to retrieve the watermelon from the well, she finds Mac's head, which flies in the air and bites Fantasy's buttocks before she escapes.  The other girls also begin to encounter other supernatural traps throughout the house.  The aunt disappears after entering the broken refrigerator, and the girls are attacked or possessed by a series of items in the house, such as Gorgeous becoming possessed after using her aunt's mirror and Sweet disappearing after being attacked by mattresses. These attacks cause the girls to try to escape the house.  As soon as Gorgeous walks out the door, the rest of the girls find themselves locked in.  The girls try to find the aunt to unlock the door but only find Mac's severed hand in a jar.  Melody begins to play the piano to keep the girl's spirits up as the girls hear Gorgeous singing upstairs.  As Prof and Kung Fu go to investigate, Melody's fingers are bitten off by the piano, and it ultimately eats her whole.

Upstairs in the house, Kung Fu and Prof find Gorgeous wearing a bridal gown, who then reveals her aunt's diary to them.  Kung Fu follows Gorgeous as she leaves the room, only to find Sweet's body trapped in a grandfather clock. Panic-driven, the remaining girls barricade the upper part of the house while Prof, Fantasy and Kung Fu read the aunt's diary.  They are interrupted by the giant-sized head of Gorgeous.  Gorgeous reveals that her aunt died many years ago waiting for her husband to return from World War II and that her spirit remains, eating unmarried girls who arrive at her home.  The three girls are then attacked by household items.  Prof shouts to Kung Fu to attack the aunt's cat, Blanche.  As Kung Fu lunges into a flying kick, she is eaten by a possessed light fixture.  Kung Fu's legs manage to escape and attack the painting of Blanche on the wall.  The attacked Blanche portrait spurts blood, causing the room to flood.  Prof tries to read the diary to solve the problem, but is pulled under the blood by a monster jar.  Fantasy sees Gorgeous in the bridal gown and paddles towards her.  Gorgeous appears as her aunt in the reflection in the blood and then cradles Fantasy.  In the morning, Ryoko arrives at the house and finds Gorgeous in a classic kimono.  Gorgeous tells Ryoko that her friends will wake up soon and that they will be hungry.  She then shakes hands with Ryoko and burns her away to nothing.

House was released on July 30, 1977 in Japan.  It was originally released as a double feature with the romance film Pure Hearts in Mud.  Toho did not expect House to be successful, but the film became a great hit.  The film became specifically popular with a youth audience.  House was never shown in the United States until the distribution rights were bought by Janus Films to be released as part of their Eclipse line of DVDs.  Eclipse was originally conceived as a possible sub-label for cult films for the company.  Janus soon began getting requests for theatrical screenings of the film.  Janus initiated a small tour of theatrical showings, including two sold-out shows at the 2009 New York Asian Film Festival.  In January 2010, House began being shown theatrically across North America.

House was released by the Masters of Cinema label in the United Kingdom on DVD.  Bonus features on the disc included interviews with the cast and crew and the theatrical trailer.  House was released by The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 26, 2010.  Bonus features on the disc included a making-of feature with interviews with the crew, Obayashi's short film Emotion (1966), and an appreciation video featuring director Ti West.

The film did not receive many reviews in Japan on its initial release.  The general reception among Japanese critics who did review the film was negative.  Nobuhiko Obayashi won the Blue Ribbon Award for Best New Director in 1978 for House, and on House's theatrical screenings across North America, the film began to receive generally favorable reviews.  House was The New York Times critics pick stating that "Mr. Obayashi has created a true fever dream of a film, one in which the young female imagination – that of his daughter, Gorgeous or both – yields memorable results."  The Seattle Times gave House three out of four stars, stating that what the film "lacks in technical wizardry it more than makes up for in playful ingenuity, injecting cheesy effects into outrageously stylized set pieces."  Slant Magazine gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "equal parts brilliant, baffling, ridiculous, and unwatchable."  The New York Post gave the film three and a half stars out of four praising the film's originality, comparing it to the work of directors Dario Argento and Guy Maddin.  indieWire included House in their list of "Haunted House films worth discussing" calling it "the cheeriest, most infectious blood bath in cinematic history."  In 2009, the Japanese film magazine Kinema Junpo placed House on at number 160 on their list of top 200 Japanese films.

The Austin Chronicle gave House a mixed review, saying that "there's surprisingly little to recommend House as a film.  But as an experience, well, that's a whole other story."  The Village Voice gave the film a mixed review, saying that "Contemporary Japanese pop culture makes the hophead nonsense of House look quaint by comparison... though it plays like a retarded hybrid of Rocky Horror and Whispering Corridors, it is, moment to moment, its own kind of movie hijinks."  The Boston Globe gave the film two stars out of four, opining that films by Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson had attempted similar styled films with better success.



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