House (1977)

This is fucked up. That was the gist of pretty much all the reviews I’ve seen of this film following its much-delayed release in the West, and they weren’t kidding; this is some spectacularly weird shit here. Reduced to the broad outline of its plot, House is reasonably straightforward to some extent; a group of Japanese schoolgirls go to visit the aunt of one at the girls during the school holidays at her isolated countryside house, but malign supernatural forces lurking around the place make themselves known. So far, so Amityville… but this really is one of those films where the handling of the material is more important than the material itself. The story actually came from the director’s young daughter, and is full of weird incidental detail, and director Obayashi matches it well with his own extravagant visual technique. Obayashi had a flourishing career in directing commercials (as the trailer on the DVD amusingly notes), and it was apparently criticised in some quarters for looking like a commercial (which I suppose it does), but no doubt that was the point, to provide this distinctive material with a distinctive look. As Obayashi says in the DVD interview, he never expected he’d actually get to make a “proper” film given the nature of the Japanese studio system, and really only got the chance in kind of random fashion… so the film often gave me a sense that he’d decided he would never get the chance again and so he’d better fill the film with every visual, editing and sound trick he’d learned in his advertising career in case this was indeed a one-shot. The end result is quite ostentatious in its weirdness, practically shouting at you to look at how fucking strange it is, and it actually works better than this sort of overt oddity tends to do; if you’re attuned to its approach, House has much to offer.

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