Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Screenplay: Chiho Katsura
If you’re in the market for exceedingly bizarre and utterly sui generis horror-fantasy films that can also make you laugh until you’re sick, do yourself a favour and visit Hausu.
The plot of the film, such as it is, follows Japanese high-schooler Oshare (Kimiko Ikegami) and her friends as they vacation at the country home of Oshare’s aunt (Yoko Minamida), a spinster with bleached white hair and sinister designs on the “unmarried” girls (does she seek revenge? repossession?). Enlisting the help of her demonic house and pet cat, the aunt subjects the schoolgirls to a series of increasingly baroque games of torture and ensnarement.
This macabre plot description does hardly any justice to the film; as Stephen Broomer writes of Hausu, “The story is secondary to its aesthetic character,” which is remarkable and very hard to describe. Perhaps I’m not aware of my own cinematic blind spots, but it’s impossible for me to think of another narrative film that offers anything to rival Hausu‘s non-stop battery of delirious, pervertedly funny, and all-together eye-popping imagery, especially in its final twenty minutes or so. (Argento and Bava share Obayashi’s pop art sensibilities, but can’t match his speed or prolificity.) It seems likely you’d have to look to the avant-garde for comparable cinematic insanity (some of Hausu‘s effects include the cutting up of compositions with animation and floating superimpositions of torsos, skulls, arms, etc.; as well as the use of varying intensities of colour, light, and camera speed from image to image); this makes sense when you read that director Obayashi began his career as an experimental filmmaker in Japan.
Another apt comparison may be comic books: each of Obayashi’s shots resembles a different panel, organized unto itself and containing a new candy-coloured visual invention, another gag, another giddy shock, refusing easy narrative continuity. Adding to this comic book flavour is my favourite character, Kung Fu, a high-flying, high-kicking schoolgirl played by Miki Jinbo, who engages in an epic battle against house furniture in the film’s manic climax.
Geez, just take a look at the trailer, will ya?