House (Janus Films, NR)

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The premise of a house that eats people sounds promising enough, if you ask me.

 

In 2006, the Jean-Pierre Melville film Army of Shadows was officially released for the first time in the United States, despite having come out in its native France in 1969. Given that it had never been released in the U.S., many critics treated the film as if it were new, giving it stellar reviews, including it on their Best of 2006 lists, etc. It is with this precedent that I approach the Japanese film House, which is showing this weekend at the Webster Film Series.
Originally released in Japan in 1977 to great fanfare, House is the first feature film by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who at that time in Japan was known for making commercials. There’s all kinds of funny back story to the making of House—its studio, Toho, made a lot of directors in waiting mad when they hired 39-year-old Obayashi to make this film (at the time to become a director at Toho was basically a matter of seniority), approaching him to make a knockoff of Jaws, which was popular at the time. Obayashi’s solution was that, instead of a shark that eats people, he’d have a house that eats people. Many of the film’s plot points were dreamt up by his young daughter. More important than that random smattering of details, House could not be more fun.
The premise of a house that eats people sounds promising enough, if you ask me. Add to it the fact that the people it eats are seven Japanese schoolgirls who travel to it (each with a descriptive name, like the seven dwarves: Angel, Kung-Fu, Fantasy, Prof, Mac, Melody and Sweetie); consider that the film is a cult classic in Japan, and I’m sold. But even that doesn’t prepare you for how inventive, funny and plain old weird House is. Here we have some of the most inventive deaths I can recall seeing (both in theory and in visualization), with Svankmajer-esque stop motion animation of human beings, abrupt changes in tone, a weird voodoo dance involving watermelons and bananas, and the funkiest editing this side of experimental film.
House surfaced in the U.S. last year at the New York Asian Film Festival, making the rounds in a couple of festivals; this year, it is being officially released by Janus Films. Given that Janus has the rights, it’s practically a given that it will receive a Criterion Collection DVD when the time comes; it has already gotten a Masters of Cinema release in the U.K., which is their answer to the Criterion Collection. It will also very likely be the most enjoyable film to be released in the U.S. this year—see it in the theater and feel lucky that you can. I’ll be there all three nights. | Pete Timmermann
 
House shows at the Webster Film Series at 7:30 PM June 11-13. For more information, visit webster.edu/filmseries. Also, you can check out the trailer here, and trust that the whole film is pretty much like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0NWIxl2VJk
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