Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 Japanese horror/comedy film House is difficult to introduce to a new audience without spoiling the very elements that make it unique. Yes, it is set in what could be described as a ‘haunted house’, but what is unleashed upon audiences is more than a mere spooky ghost story.
In fact, one could argue if House can even be defined as a horror film.
Certainly there is enough grotesque bodily dismemberment witnessed throughout, but in terms of structure it breaks almost every rule that 1970’s cinema abided by…and for that reason alone I absolutely adore House!
‘Gorgeous’ (Kimiko Ikegami), as nicknamed by her friends, is excited for her summer vacation in Karuizawa that she has been planning with her father (Saho Sasazawa). Her best friend, ‘Fantasy’ (Kumiko Oba), is envious but just as excited about the upcoming school trip she will be going on with her friends ‘Prof’ (Ai Matsubara), ‘Melody’ (Eriko Tanaka), ‘Kung Fu’ (Miki Jinbo), ‘Mac’ (Mieko Sato), ‘Sweet’ (Masayo Miyako) and school teacher (and school crush) Mr. Togo (Kiyohiko Ozaki).
Upon arriving home Gorgeous’ father announces that his female companion will be joining them on their vacation, the beautiful Ryoko (Haruko Wanibuchi). He would very much like Gorgeous and Ryoko to become friends, as he hopes that Ryoko will be accepted as Gorgeous’ new mother. This angers Gorgeous who runs away. Her birth mother had passed away several years prior, and she is not ready to accept a new family member into her life.
Upset, Gorgeous looks through a series of old photos of her mother. One particular wedding photo depicts Gorgeous‘ mother in her bridal costume, sat next to her sister. “I wonder how auntie is” Gorgeous ponders. Having only met her aunt once before Gorgeous decides to write a letter to her, asking if she can stay at her house for the summer, instead of spending it in Karuizawa.
Meanwhile at school, Mr. Togo announces that the school trip has unexpectedly been cancelled. Overhearing this Gorgeous asks her friends if they would like to come with her to her aunt’s house instead. They agree! But unbeknownst to the girls is that Gorgeous’ “auntie”, and her sinister fluffy white cat Blanche, eat unmarried girls who visit their house!
Nobuhiko Obayashi’s feature-length debut is a refreshing experience, unlike anything else you will ever see. The fantastical (and often incomprehensible) ideas were taken directly from the mind of Nobuhiko’s pre-teen daughter Chigumi Obyashi. Nobuhiko believed that adults “only think about things they understand…everything stays on that boring human level” while “children can come up with things that can’t be explained”.
Yet, despite the genre-blending of cartoonish violence and comedy, Nobuhiko also managed to inject an element of melancholic sadness that punctuates throughout House. The story of Gorgeous’ aunt, for example, incorporates themes from World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as subtext. This provides depth to the main antagonist who, whether intentionally or not, symbolises the effects WWII had on Japanese society. I could try to dissect House further but it defies analysis. House is a visual masterpiece that simply exists!
I found Nobuhiko Obayashi’s debut an undeniably cute mishmash of ideas, whereas others may find it hilariously silly and often at times fairly disturbing, I’m sure. The experimental nature of House is admirable, despite a few missteps in execution, providing audiences with a relentlessly entertaining and completely unpredictable cinematic experience.
House is available to buy from Amazon in both the UK and the USA; plus if you decide to make a purchase after following any of the links provided you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.