Review: House (1977)

hausuDirected by Nobuhiko Obayashi

Part of the appeal of Japanese cinema to the occidental audience is that it is a little more likely to catch a viewer jaded by Western conventions off guard. And then there’s House.

The last film to see the inside of a US cinema that made this little sense was probably Transformers 2. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 oddity has previously never escaped Japan, and there are probably good reasons for that: Not least that it’s completely insane, borderline incoherent, and shot with so much visual panache and mid-70s excess that it comes off like Ringu on a Pixy Stix-fueled hug-a-thon.

It’s in many ways a fairly conventional Japanese supernatural horror film. Seven schoolgirls travel to visit an infirm old aunt and start getting picked off, one-by-one, by the occult forces that lurk in her home. But Obayashi abandons any pretense of horror, instead shooting in a neon palate and day-glo mindset that may have inspired such more recent oddities as Happiness of the Katakuris or Big Man Japan.

It’s hard to tell whether this film should sit alongside a cult disaster like Troll 2 or a counter-culture experiment like The Final Programme. In fact, there’s surprisingly little to recommend House as a film. But as an experience, well, that’s a whole other story. It’s not incompetently made like so many other epicly bad movies: Obayashi’s long career as an art film and TV commercial director has proved that he is more than technically adept (hell, the man got Kirk Douglas to schill coffee granules). There are even scenes that look like outtakes from a ’70s perfume ad, all soft focus and wind-swept hair and characters looking off into the middle distance.

Then someone gets eaten by a piano.

If it wasn’t for the fact that seemingly bad ideas were deliberate conceit, this would all just look like a blunder. But when he puts a backdrop canvas of mountains in an empty field, or has severed legs kung-fu kick a wallpaper cat, it’s just a brain-rattling delight.

(this review originally ran at

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