It almost sounds like a bad joke. Toho, credited for creating the iconic Godzilla, walks into a bar. Toho sees Nobuhiko Obayashi, a 1960’s surrealist trailblazer, and says “Hey, want to make a Japanese Jaws?” And Obayashi says “Sure!” And apparently that’s how you get House. Though, aside from the one flailing naked girl in water scene, this film has very little in common with the iconic American classic. Riddled with bad reviews when it was originally released, House went into hiding until 2009, when it received a wide release in America. It received far better reviews, though now has evolved into something of a silly cult classic and less of an avant garde commentary on Japanese culture and film.
The film begins more like an episode of some high school drama, where each character is compartmentalized into the flattest, least dynamic person possibly created. There’s…
“Gorgeous” (Kimiko Ikegami): The pretty, troubled lead.
“Mac” (Mieko Sato): The chunky one who always, always, ALWAYS EATS. (Like two burgers in her hands at all time eats).
“Sweet” (Masayo Miyako): The, let’s see… sweet one?
“Melody” (Eriko Tanaka): The one who plays all the instruments and loves to sing.
“Kung Fu” (Miki Jinbo): The one who cooks. (Just kidding, she’s the badass door kicking one).
“Prof” (Ai Matsubara): Nerd with glasses.
“Fantasy” (Kumiko Oba): The totally oblivious one who lives in a dream world.
The flatness of these characters is reinforced by their introductions, which show them in line outside their school, doing or saying something that in some way correlates with their namesake. Kung Fu doing some kind of sport, Mac eating, Prof with a book and nerd glasses, you get the picture. Now let’s get to the heart of it all. Gorgeous.
Gorgeous lives with her dad in a weird, almost incestuous kind of way, and her mom has been dead for quite some time. She’s grown accustomed to jumping into her father’s arms, laughing while sewing his clothes, and all this other traditional mother role propaganda. Then, a new lady comes along. The slow motion moment, paired with her white scarf and hair blowing in the wind tells us that she is much more gorgeous than Gorgeous. This, in turn, upsets Gorgeous and sends her into this weird spiral where she begins to obsess about her mom and when she was little. This then brings us to…
The crazy aunt who lives in some super dusty mansion in the middle of nowhere. With a cat. And for some reason, the girls decide this is the perfect location for a vacation. So amidst the dancing skeletons, evil red eyed hypnotic glares from the surprisingly agile cat, excruciatingly long stares at an otherwise subpar sunset and some disappointing nudity, viewers are forced to find a sort of reality life vest in the otherwise lost surrealist jumble as girls lose their lives to a demented Obayashi nightmare.
There are times when you think it all might make sense. You think, “well, perhaps the goldfish all represent a different girl, and as each one of them dies, a goldfish goes missing…” A good starting thought, which then leads you to the thought that “maybe he chose goldfish because they are innocent, feeble creatures with short life spans, who dwell in an environment which they cannot control…” and then you see how this also illuminates segments of the film you didn’t realize before… In fact, you may see the girl dying within the clock towards the end of the film and think, “hey, this might symbolize the character’s loss of time – either because their time on earth is running out, that they are simply lost women in time (like the aunt, forever held within the same moment, unable to reconcile a horrible loss), or that perhaps the woman in the clock symbolizes our inability to escape the pressures of time…” You may think the slow motion woman in white represents an untouchable beauty. You may think that as she approaches the house, maybe, just maybe, something so beautiful and clean can bring some justice to an otherwise lost, hopeless house. You think, “could this be a representation of my own opportunistic, optimistic mind and hope for a better future for a woman and a house so far gone?” But as the film comes to an end, you realize nothing can help this lost home because as clean and pure and beautiful as this woman in white may seem, she had no brains. This in turn makes you think of yourself, your friends, family, our community, our society. You think, “Is Obayashi attempting to tell me that it is possible for something to be too far gone? Are there really those that are beyond help? Fates which cannot be repaired or replaced? Or perhaps that it would take more than heaven-sent beauty and purity to heal such permanent wounds?” You think all these things…and then you see it. A pair of legs frantically kicking from beneath a lampshade. Chopped fingers playing the piano. A flying head biting a girls ass. These images appear and seemingly run any credibility you have attempted to strive towards…
It is this that solidifies House as a definite, memorable head turner. If you do have an interest and patience for film, this is one that can stimulate your senses and challenge your mind. So if you are interested in watching something that’s almost like Eraserhead and The Yellow Submarine had a hate child who couldn’t sing for shit, then by all means…give House a try. We did! Watch us experience the movie in 360 in the video below: