‘Hausu’ – 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Writer: Chiho Katsura (screenplay) and Chigumi Ôbayashi (original story)
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo and Kumiko Ôba
Taglines: “How Seven Beauties Were Eaten!”
Runtime: 88 minutes
It’s not often that a film achieves a resurgence years after it’s released, but it’s certainly not unheard of. Some movies beat the test of time and some just don’t find their legs for awhile. I think that Hausu (House in English) probably fits into the latter category. I’t not hard to find a review of this slow burning Toho gem on the internet this day and age, but it’s probably a little necessary for The B Movie Brigade to throw in our oar, because not only has the US distribution and Criteron Collection’s DVD release of this film made it pretty popular, but it’s probably the best B movie in the world.
Hausu is the story of seven years. We start out at school where Oshare and Fanta are discussing their impending plans for vacation. Fanta is off to camp and Oshare is going to a vacation home with her father. A spanner gets thrown in the works, however, when Oshare’s father arrives home a day early, eager to introduce her to Ryoko, a woman who will become her new stepmother. Oshare is not okay with this. Even though it’s been eight years since her mother’s death she’s still feeling it. So she writes to her Auntie for refuge and is promptly invited to the matronly woman’s enormous house in the middle of nowhere. Helpfully, Fanta and their other friends’ plans also fall through when camp is cancelled as well. So it’s all seven girls off to middle of nowhere Japan with the cat, Snowball, who randomly jumped through Oshare’s window, keeps disappearing, and then reappearing again along for the ride.
Oshare’s friends have very helpful names for the dim witted viewer. There’s Fanta, of course, who lives in a fantasy world and enjoys daydreaming, Kung Fu who’s clearly the most entertaining and loves to karate chop her way through life, Prof who wears glasses and is the intelligent member of the group, Mac who loves to eat and is affectionally nicknamed after the English ‘stomach’, Sweet who’s very nice and loves to clean, and finally Melody who really just loves music. To help the viewer out further each girl is only given one character trait; the ones which their names suggest.
When they arrive at the house everything seems awesome; wheelchair confined Auntie couldn’t be nicer, there’s tons of room, and lots of stuff to do. The perfect getaway for a bunch of teenage girls. So what if the melon seller down the road likes to laugh maniacally, the path to the house scales a mountain complete with screeching flying creatures, and the moment they walk in the door a chandelier falls apart, stabbing a passing lizard, and causing Kung Fu to have to whip out some of her sweet ass moves in order to knock another piece out of the way? That skeleton at the side of the room is completely normal, and it’s perfectly natural that Auntie doesn’t want them putting that melon in the refrigerator. The well is probably much cooler anyway. Not even Auntie’s nefarious remarks about Mac being perfectly plump and succulent seem to bother them. It’s only when members of their small band start disappearing and the formerly disabled Auntie gets up and literally does a jig before disappearing completely that they start to wonder if things aren’t entirely as they appear.
There is, also, the fact that the film is pretty outrageously uneven; ranging from ominous foreshadowing one moment to fifteen minutes in where there’s a random scene of Snowball running under a man’s feet, who then proceeds to fall down the stairs face first with his arms stretched in front of him like Superman, and somehow halfway down get his backside stuck in a bucket that twirls around several times fast while he cries out like a man as confused as the audience must be. The only reason I could imagine this scene held was the fact that the film must have been thirty seconds too short.
The scenery is another big draw for this film. Clearly the budget did not include sweeping location shots, or… anything outside. All the skies are painted, a fact that’s extremely obvious in an early scene where it clearly wasn’t in the right position and the crew keeps moving it around even after the camera is rolling. There’s also the fact that every time Ryoko is shown it’s with a wind machine, as if she had one strapped onto her feet so that she’s always just a little more fabulous than you. This effect is ten fold by the fact that she has a penchant for wearing gauzy flowing gowns and a white scarf around her neck that appears more blowing over her head than resting where it belongs.
A particularly favorite scene occurs after Mac has disappeared, but they assume she’s just down in a sweet potato field, obviously munching on raw yams since her one character trait revolves around her never being able to get enough food in her belly. But the rest are getting a little restless, they want to eat some of that succulent melon Mac stored to cool down the well. Fanta is charged with pulling it up. A task which she carries out with aplomb until she discovers that where the melon should be is instead Mac’s severed head. Which immediately comes to life, starts flying around and eventually settles on biting Fanta on her perfectly displayed rump.
Of course, no one believes her, because she’s the fantasist, and also heads coming to life and biting is not exactly normal. But, as the girls will soon find out, in a house where bed linens, pianos, and light fixtures have you for supper there really is no “normal”.
This is one film I wont spoil because unlike all the others, which are funny but hardly life changing, I would recommend this to pretty much anyone. It’s rife with absurdities, terrible special effects, and some plot holes, but all those lend to it’s amazing charm.