Posted by keelsetter on October 11, 2009
Janus Films, the distributor of high-brow and classic arthouse films such as Rashomon, Rules of the Game, and Pierrot le fou, has struck out in an entirely unexpected direction by picking up the rights to a very bizarre and overlooked Japanese horror film by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Originally released over thirty years ago, Hausu (aka: House) is currently making the rounds again, nation-wide, at very select theaters (It airs on TCM Underground this Friday night – Jan. 13, 2012 at 2 am ET). This movie about a young girl who takes some friends with her to her grandmother’s house out in the country, only to discover it’s haunted and ready to eat some victims. The film is – to use the words of film critic J. Seaver – “batshit crazy from start to finish.”
I first found out about Hausu about a year ago from my friend Alisha, a D.J. the local campus radio station. At that time, the film was finding a new audience thanks to YouTube clips and various pirate sites where the film could be downloaded. But many of these downloads were downright crappy, some didn’t have subtitles, some only had subtitles in German, and most had horrible resolution. I held out for better, and I’m glad I did, because it turns out Janus has been sitting on the rights for years and has now made its HD master available for public consumption. Speaking of consumption, here’s the YouTube clip of a girl getting eaten by a piano that first got my attention (obviously this is not for the squeamish):
Obayashi has over 40 credits to his name on IMDB and Hausu was his debut feature (it was preceded by a 40 minute short called Emotion: densetsu no gogo = itskukamita Dracula in 1966). The original story for Hausu was written by Obayashi’s daughter, but it must be said that the story is easily eclipsed by a cinematic style that ricochet’s in so many directions that it’s hard to peg it down in any succinct manner. The color schemes are so bright as to risk retina burn, the sight gags often undermine any true sense of dread by their sheer abstraction – which often push things into comedic physicality. There is also a bizarre fusion of pop commercialism alongside an uncompromising visual approach that verges on the avant-garde. Put it all together and you have a truly unique phanastmagoric ride that one can’t help but think was intensely influential on the likes of Takashi Miike. To see the clip below with the dancing lampshade and blood flowing out the walls, it’s easy to speculate that Sam Raimi may have also have taken a cue from Obayashi:
Obayashi appears to still be at work as a mainstream director and is well known in Japan as a “TV talent” who still regularly circuits talk shows, game shows, and does work on commercials (both in front and behind the camera). The practice of using American stars to hawk Japanese products is now well known, it was even the premise behind Lost in Translation, but it has a long history and Obayashi is credited by some as possibly being the first Japanese director to do so. In fact, his nickname of “Obi” was apparently given to him by Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson in the seventies due to the fact that they had issues with his full last name and so simply shortened it to last two letters of “O.B.” Speaking of Obi and Bronson, here’s a YouTube clip for one of their Mandom ads – it’s crazy cat-nip for those of you that can’t get enough of a shirtless Bronson dancing around smoking a pipe and firing his gun:
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