DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
HOUSE (HAUSU) (director: Nobuhiko bayashi; screenwriters: Chiho Katsura/based on an idea by Chigumi bayashi; cinematographer: Yoshitaka Sakamoto; editor: obuo Ogawa; music: Asei Kobayashi/Mikk Yoshino; cast: Kimiko Ikegami (Gorgeous), Kimiko Ohba (Fantasy), Yoko Minamida (Auntie), Miki Jinbo (Kung Fu), Eriko Tanaka (Melody), Ai Matsubara (Prof), Mieko Satoh (Mac), Masayo Miyako (Sweet), Haruko Wanibuchi (Ryoko Ema), Saho Sasazawa (Father), Kiyohiko Ozaki (Keisuke Togo), Asei Kobayashi (Watermelon Seller); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Yorihiko Yamada/Nobuhiko bayashi; The Criterion Collection; 1977-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

"Bizarre ghost story."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Japan's answer to Spielberg's smash hit Jaws (1975) is this bizarre ghost story directed in a energetic manic way by Nobuhiko bayashi ("The Last Snow"/"The Reason"/"The Song of Goodbye"), former director of commercials and experimental shorts. Aimed for the under-thirty youth market (which made the film a big hit in Japan), this absurd surreal haunted house comedy horror film's best features are that it's strange, lively, trippy, unpredictable and colorful. It's based on a concept by Chigumi bayashi, the director's 10-year-old daughter, and is written by Chiho Katsura. It plays like a cult midnight-movie, and is a film that might be pop culture inventive but is so senseless that it takes a lot to get with the program and overlook its many faults, that include bad film-making.

Spoiled rich Tokyo high school girl Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) in a jealous snit rejects her widowed father's (Saho Sasazawa) marriage plans with the beautiful jewelry designer Ryoko Ema (Haruko Wanibuchi and chooses not to spend her summer vacation with them in her dad's villa. Instead she writes to her deceased mother's sister and is welcomed to visit with the lonely spinster aunt (Yoko Minamida, the film's only professional actress), someone Gorgeous has not seen for at least eight years, in her secluded rural mansion with six other always giggling in unison female classmates. All the coeds are given a name for what they represent, such as Sweet (Masayo Miyako), Fantasy (Kimiko Ohba), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Prof (Ai Matsubara), and Mac (Mieko Satoh). All the teenage students are played by professional models.

We learn during World War II Auntie's fiance went off to war and promised to marry her when he returned, but never returned after the war. Auntie waited for him, not believing the report that he was shot down in a plane, and has since lived alone all the passing years in her mansion atop a hill waiting for his return. In the spooky mansion, the visiting girls soon start disappearing, experiencing weird inexplicable events such as a decapitated girl's head flying out of a well, shattered mirror pieces attacking them when they look in the mirror, observing a piano remove the fingers from one guest while she's playing, Auntie while eating a slice of watermelon sucks on a human eyeball, the futons dangerously come to life in the haunted house and start attacking the girls, a cat that sings and dances is possessed and his eyes give off green beams, and many other blood-curdling sights occur. Eventually the surviving coeds learn that Auntie is dead but can survive for another day by dining on unmarried virgin girls, as that enables her to dress in her wedding gown.

The director uses freeze-frames, jump-cuts, video effects to change dimensions, spiral effects, color tints, and assorted other techie tricks to play the scary pic card more for laughs than to be gruesome. It's an experimental visual pic that becomes overwhelmed with low-brow slapstick comedy, a ridiculous killer house and garish visuals. But it's a one-of-kind film that has its admirers, who just can't resist such weird childish nonsense.   

REVIEWED ON 1/16/2012       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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