Monday, May 30, 2011

The Weird Weird World of Nobuhiko Obayashi's Gleefully Demented and Brilliantly Batshitcrazy Hausu !!!!!?!

Hey you!  If you have ever taken the time to wonder (and who hasn't!?) if there were a film out there somewhere that is equal parts Dario Argento, the crazy psychedelic world of Sid & Marty Krofft, 1980's pop music video, the works of Guy Maddin and soft core Japanese schoolgirl porn, well look no further because your search has finally ended - and what strange strange fruit it has borne.  This film cannot, or make that should not be explained.  It may very well be the film for which the term batshitcrazy was invented to describe.

This movie - needing to be seen to be believed - recently played in glorious 35mm at Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg Pa as part of the Artsfest Film Festival.  It was appropriately enough the special midnight showing that happens each year as cosponsered by the festival and the cinema (a tradition that has also been host to A Clockwork Orange, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Pink Flamingos and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls).  Approximately 95 people, most of whom had never seen the movie before, watched Obayashi's mad mad mad mad masterpiece.  Applause filled the theater afterwards.

Being the story of seven schoolgirls with names such as Gorgeous, Fantasy, Sweet, Kung-Fu (my personal fave), Prof, Melody and Mac (all of course possessing a quality to match their monikers) visiting what of course ends up being a haunted house (story idea by Obayashi's preteen daughter) where the most gleefully enjoyable blood bath ensues and girls are eaten by killer pianos and light fixtures or are beheaded and come back to try to eat the others (not to mention the evil killer cat, the noodle-eating bear and the fat demented watermelon man!?) the film is not what one would typically call great cinema. But damned if it isn't great cinema anyway.

I remember (which is easy because it was just last year) buying the Criterion blu-ray sight unseen.  The poster image of a psychotically-drawn cat was more then enough to make me plunk down whatever amount it was and buy the damned thing.  Upon watching it (projected onto the big screen after hours at Midtown Cinema of course) I knew right away the right spur-of-the-moment decision had been made.  Purposely cheap looking and full of some of the most splendidly maniacal cheap thrills this cinephile has ever seen, Hausu (aka, House) is easily one of my newly minted favourite films.  Damn it, it will even get a place of honour in my personal 100 greatest films canon.

Stealing from one of my own recurring features, here briefly are my 10 Favourite Things About Hausu.

1) Most would probably say this is an annoying quality but for me it means something powerful (musically speaking) has happened.  Just like that whistle in Kill Bill, the recurring theme song of the movie - In the Evening Mist I believe it is called - stays in my head for weeks each and every time I watch the film.  In fact it is in there right now (he says as happily humming said tune as he types).

2) The names. Several have been changed when translated, but let us go with the ones from the English-language release (since that is the only one I have seen).  Gorgeous (called Angel in the original Japanese-language version) is always dressing herself up.  Fantasy is a dreamer.  Sweet will do anything to help. Melody is the musician.  Prof is the smart one - you can tell because she wears glasses.  Kung-Fu kicks ass.  Mac eats a lot (I am guessing this is some take on stomach and not the ubiquitous McDonald's reference).

3) Obayashi's use of such garishly cheesy sets and designs and special effects.  If this film had been done in any sort of traditional way it would not be nearly as enjoyable as it ends up being.  It is blatantly - and quite arrogantly - cheap and that is just the way it needs to be.

4) One character (Gorgeous's wouldbe step mother) goes nowhere without her off camera wind machine.  Constantly wind swept in every scene (even when no one else is) may be a not-so-subtle rag on the melodramatic ways of classical cinema.

5) Kung-Fu.  I told you she was my favourite.  Randomly kicking ass (stuck cabinet doors, mice, a telephone, that crazy-ass cat, ghosts and skeletons) and stripping down to her underwear (for no apparent reason other than to titillate the male audience members) she is the sexy go-to girl in this bunch.  This kitten is fast as lightning indeed.

6) That rerelease poster image (see below) that made me buy the disc sight unseen.  It now adorns t-shirts, hast and mouse pads.  What a great maniacal cat.  The image actually nicely combines two of my wife and mine's own cats.  It has the orange colour of our oldest cat Alex but the demented killer-on-the-loose look of our youngest Fanny.

7) "Do you like melons?"  "I hate them!"  "What do you like?"  "Bananas!"  - Once you see the movie this will suddenly become freakin' hilarious to you.

8) The seemingly out-of-place (but just as appropriately perfectly in place) presence of English language pop songs by Godiego.  I suppose if the movie is going to be batshitcrazy, the soundtrack might as well be as well.

9) Not to give anything away, but a piano eats a girl.  To put it as bluntly as I can, it fucking devours the bitch.  All the while that damned haunting melody is playing - ironically by the actual character Melody.

10) Everything else that I could not fit in the first nine spots.  From the Partridge Family-esque bus ride to the Fantasy's fantasies about her "manly" teacher to Gorgeous's aunt eating eyeballs to Obayashi's criticism of the atomic bomb (the director is from Hiroshima) to the closing credits that appear to be part of some seventies Japanese variety show to Mac's severed head taking a bite out of Fantasy's ass to pretty much everything else.

Anyway, that is it for now kiddies.  My only request is that you go out and watch Hausu.  If you have any sense of cinematic love, you will not regret your decision.  If you do, well it's only 88 minutes, and you probably don't have any friends anyway.  But before I go, please allow me one more shamelessly decadent image from this shamelessly batshitcrazy movie.  This movie that will bore into you freakin' soul and lay eggs that will later hatch and become a billion batshitcrazy babies ready to devour your mind with insane catchy pictures and tunes that will never leave your head.  A demented infinity for us all!!


MP said...

I also discovered this one around Halloween 2010. And it's sure will be a classic I'll be watching it each year or so! Batshitcrazy is the word!
Your 10 favorite things are becoming a trademark recurring feature maybe you wanna make a compilation of their links on the side of your Blog. They are interesting and funny!

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. I might do just that.

Sadly it seems that Obayashi was just a one-hit wonder. I haven't seen any of his other works but from everything I have read on them, none come even close to the madness of Hausu.