Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Writer: Chiho Katsura
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, and Yōko Minamida
The 1977 Japanese film House is a strange and bizarre horror comedy that takes you completely out of reality with both laughter and unsettling moments. Angel (or Gorgeous depending on which translation you’re watching) is played by Kimiko Ikegami. After finding out that her widowed father is in a relationship with a new woman, Angel seeks out her aunt, and invites her school friends to spend some time in her aunt’s house. They travel together, leaving the bustling city and find a remote house, that’s filled with secrets and ghosts they weren’t expecting.
The film is the debut from Nobuhiko Obayashi, who had previously made a couple of short films. He came up with an idea for a film, with ideas from his daughter, and then Chiho Katsura turned that into a script. It took two years from the script being finished for the film to start production, as while Toho greenlit the script, no one wanted to direct it, thinking it would end their careers. Nobuhiko Obayashi eventually was given the okay to direct it himself, after promoting the film for the entire two years. He uses everything to make this film as unique and as startling as possible, from quick cuts, strange angels, animation, and even a scene that’s shot like a silent film with text cards, that create the bizarre world the story is set in.
At first, it seems like a family comedy, with laugh out loud slapstick moments, such a teacher falling down some stairs into a bucket. It keeps this tone up throughout, even when things start to get really weird, with severed heads, pianos that bite, and then the towards the film everything goes completely over the edge, to the point that it becomes unsettling. Everything shifts and the film turns into a full-on horror film. It works perfectly. Even though the film isn’t exactly scary, it’s unsettling enough that you start to feel it in your stomach. There’s an almost dreamlike quality to everything, and you’re never sure what’s going to happen next.
Visually the film is simply stunning. It may be a little dated, almost five decades on, but it still looks great and is more than entertaining to watch. At first, when the film is all playful, it’s like you’re watching a stage play. The sets are clearly fake, with painted backgrounds, and it adds to the dreamlike feeling the film creates. The flairs of animation, and primitive special effects are incredibly charming. It’s hard not to watch this with a smile on your face, at least until it starts to become nightmare fuel.
House was not well received when it was first released in Japan. Since then, it’s grown a cult following worldwide and it truly deserves it. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and if you click with it, then it’s something that you will return to over and over.
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