Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hausu (a.k.a. House)

Into everyone’s life a few utterly insane films must fall, for sheer variety’s sake if nothing else. Fortunately, this one’s also a pretty damn entertaining movie, and very close to being one you could watch with your kids too.
The film follows seven female high school students, one of whom decides to spend summer vacation in the country with her aunt and brings her friends along with her, only to find that all is not as it seems at her aunt’s home. That description doesn’t do the movie proper justice, however, as the movie is so crazy that every few minutes some new mad thing is happening, whether it be them walking in the house and immediately being attacked by the chandelier, a character being eaten by a piano, or the severed head of a boy floating up out of a well, saying hello, and then biting a character on the ass. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, and no way of anticipating what’s going to be flying out at you next. More movies should be like that.

The visual style has to be mentioned as well, because it’s just as over-the-top, sometimes a bit much so. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi creates a fairly dreamlike world, giving us a nice Douglas Sirk-type overtly fake backdrop when they head to the aunt’s house, there are several animated sequences, and some frequent camera tricks, even at times when there’s no real reason for any. At one point, for instance, there’s a pretty extended camera shot following the girls as they leave a room, walk down the stairs, try the telephone, and talk to each other for several minutes, and the whole time this is happening the film is slowed down and strobing, for seemingly no reason other than Obayashi was presumably worried that people might find the scene boring if he didn’t do anything. It gets a little unnecessary after a while.

That said, this is still a ridiculously fun and amusing film, and is mostly pretty child-safe aside from the climax. There’s a little bit of blood and nudity at the end, but nothing beyond what I’d have enjoyed as a little kid (well, the blood I would have enjoyed, the nudity I would have been indifferent to). The actresses also help sell the idea that it’s all lighthearted and safe, as they all seem thoroughly bubbly and air headed at all times, and don’t really seem incredibly concerned even after their friends all start disappearing and the aunt has suspiciously gone from being wheelchair bound to dancing with skeletons. They also laugh at completely inappropriate moments, like when they all start laughing hysterically after one randomly says “old cats can open doors, but only ghost cats can close them again”. Some would call that bad acting, no doubt. I prefer to view it as inspired.

The film is just now getting its first DVD release in the US, and by Criterion of all companies. They’re more known for releasing art house fare, which I suppose simply means that Hausu is indeed an art film and should be held in the same high regard as Forbidden Games or L‘Eclisse. It feels a bit closer to an early Peter Jackson film than either of those, but clearly this is a film that works on many levels.

Rating: *** ½

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