When a film is being worked on, whether it’s pre, post or during production, there are many vital things to be considered. But one of the absolutely essential thought processes that most people seem to ignore while taking in the latest big screen hoopla – and definitely one that I’ve become more apt to understand over the last two or three years – is recognizing the audience it was made for. Most studios are obviously concerned with the prestige and money involved with a project first and foremost, but knowing who it will actually appeal to is up there too. Sometimes, it’s a broad range of ages, classes and what have you; other times, it’s a very specific part of the populace (horror, for example). And every so often, there’s a film so strange and genre defying that it will probably appeal to like ten people. Hausu, the feature-length debut of Nobuhiko Obayashi, is such an experiment; one that defies any sort of classification and, in any many instances, logic. Luckily for me, I happen to be one of the ten people who will go on to cherish this bizarre curiosity for years to come.
The story follows Oshare, a school girl who becomes enraged when she finds out her father is scrapping their plans to go on vacation so he can spend time with his new woman. But rather than sitting around and sulking, she decides to invite a few friends to stay with her at her aunt’s house. Little do they know that the aunt is, in fact, a demon who lives in a house that devours any virgin that steps through its doors. And to answer the question that I’m sure is on your mind, yes, there is a fluffy, white kitty with supernatural powers.
Nothing during the film’s eighty-eight minute runtime can be described as average or run-of-the-mill. The exposition, which is a fairly plain “woman is left depressed in her house after her beau goes off to war, only to never return” yarn, is livened up by being presented as a sepia-tinted film-within-a-film to the girls while they’re taking a train to their gloomy destination. Even the introduction of the girls, which could have been either completely ignored or mundanely explained, is done with airbrushed headshots popping up along with their special attributes – Melody is musically inclined, Fanta has fantastical daydreams and Kung-Fu knows, well, kung-fu and has her own action theme music.
The tone and universe the film inhabits, however, will be the deal breaker for anyone wanting to give Hausu a whirl. While I wouldn’t say that the first fifteen or so minutes are exactly played straight (camera tricks are used, sometimes multiple techniques at once), the real feel of the film doesn’t rear its head until a handyman falls down a flight of stairs, only to land ass-first in a bucket and then slides around the street in stop-motion. The girls live in a Saturday morning cartoon world, where a smiling sun comes out every morning and gives them two scoops of raisins in their bran; where H.R. Pufnstuf delivers their mail; and where a piano can eat someone. That’s not to say that every zany happening is especially funny, but they are always equal parts bizarre and fascinating. In that respect, I would compare it to Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris, in that it not only uses several different filming styles, but also combines dramatic, comedic, horrific and fantastical elements into one wholly unique experience.
A definite influence for many genre staples such as Evil Dead, Hausu is a film that I would definitely recommend seeing, even though I don’t know who exactly to recommend it to. If ass-biting decapitated heads, schoolgirl sexual undertones and an obsession with watermelon is your thing, then drop everything you’re doing and find this film immediately. If you’re scratching your head and wondering why anyone would find that amusing, clearly you’re not in the select ten.
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