Monday, April 26, 2010

HAUSU (1977) - 5/5 stars

Release: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Chiho Katsura
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Yôko Minamida, Ai Matsubara, Miki Jinbo, Masayo Miyako, Mieko Satoh, Eriko Tanaka
Soundtrack: Micky Yoshino and Asei Kobayashi, Godiego (songs)
Claim to fame: an obscure 70's horror film from Japan, distributed by Toho (the same studio behind Godzilla), that has developed increasing internet buzz over the past year; soon to be released on DVD in America by the Criterion Collection
Rating: 5/5 stars

Taking a cue from Sean Gill over at Junta Juleil's Culture Shock (, I'm not going to bother to try and describe what happens in "Hausu." It'd be a fruitless effort that would not only spoil the movie for the uninitiated, but it'd also be like trying to describe sections of the Sistine Chapel. The beauty is in how it all comes together. Really, just view one of the few clips or trailers of "Hausu" on YouTube and if you have any inkling towards gonzo foreign cinema at all, I can guarantee that your interest will be piqued.

What I can happily do, though, is describe the elements that comprise "Hausu." It's a unique combination of the familiar and unfamiliar. First of all, it's probably important to keep in mind that director Nobuhiko Obayashi's background was in television commercials. Not only was "Hausu" his first directorial effort, but the story was supposedly based on an idea from his 7 year-old daughter. Obayashi must have extrapolated that idea through a weird mix of alchemy and mad genius.

The concept is as simple as this: a group of high school friends visit a haunted house. But once you realize that the girls all have names that fit their personality traits ("Mac" is the chubby one, "Prof" is the brainy one, "Kung Fu" is the tough one) - and that the script never allows them to step outside those narrowly defined traits - AND that the haunted house is actually owned by the lead girl's aunt…well, then things get a little less simple. Toss in Obayashi's "everything and the kitchen sink" filmmaking style, and you have a horror movie that combines the laugh-out-loud absurdity of some Japanese television commercials, the neon-lit atmospherics of Italian horror movies like Dario Argento's "Suspiria" and "Inferno"






the vibe of the obscure 1989 NES survival-horror game "Sweet Home," which would go on to inspire the "Resident Evil" series and whose cover art is not dissimilar to the "Hausu" poster I have here,





the "gee, gang, there's a mystery afoot" vibe of a Scooby-Doo cartoon and the spooky theatrics of Disney World attraction the Haunted Mansion,



and these images of kaleidoscope cats.



And while I attended a packed, swelteringly-hot midnight showing of "Hausu" that was full of laughter, cheers, and applause for the film's entire duration, I feel as though I should stress that the movie is NOT just something to laugh at.

For all of its insanity, "Hausu" is also one of the most beautiful and visually inventive movies I've seen in my life. There's a moment where the entire screen is filled with a mirrored reflection of the main character's face; the glass splinters and begins to ooze blood right down the screen. Elsewhere, characters ride on a raft atop rivers of blood - through a house! - and someone randomly disintegrates into a pile of smoking bones. I was genuinely in awe of the imagery I was seeing and the sheer creativity on display.

The thing about "Hausu" is, it's not just the spooky stuff that's filmed with surreal flair. A simple train ride to the countryside becomes as psychedelic as any 70's prog-rock album cover thanks to the dazzling techniques of Obayashi. In fact, in some ways it's the seemingly normal and mundane activities in "Hausu" that are the most frightening, thanks to the film's severely askew vision of reality. Needless to say, "Hausu" is not going to end the way you think it will. And you'll probably never look at cats the same way again.

And just so I'm not completely a tease, here are some actual images from the film. Enjoy.






  1. A fine write-up- so difficult to describe the indescribable. And somehow it really does encapsulate the nostalgias and delights of Argento, Saturday morning cartoons, and NES classics- no small feat. I need to watch this again...immediately!

  2. Hausu completely exceeded my expectations. I have reached total consciousness and am now one with the universe. But seriously, that was one wild movie. I love the fact that the horror part of the flick was not the most disturbing part for you said, a simple train ride does turn totally psychedelic.

    When this becomes available on DVD I am buying it immediately.

    On a side note, I really need to watch Suspiriaaaa!