Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hooray for HAUSU!

Many other blogs have already reported it, but great news for fans of semi-obscure but phantasmagoric Japanese cinema is to be had in IFC TV's upcoming presentation of one of the great undiscovered (in the US) treasures of the genre: Nobuhiko Obayashi's jaw-dropping 1977 horror comedy HOUSE (aka HAUSU). If you think you've seen it all, and you're searching for something to recapture the feeling of watching your first anime, or J-horror, or chanbara flick, look no further. It encompasses just about every genre known to man, and features sequences that are still ahead of their time in terms of sheer visual imagination (check out the above clip for proof).

I've been curious about Obayashi and his vast career for some time. He's still working as a mainstream director, and recently turned out a remake of one of his own films, the kids-switch-bodies Exchange Students (aka Tenkosei). But HOUSE was his first feature film, and it's a doozy. Prior to the feature, Obayashi had a curious career, and one pretty unprecedented in the world of Japanese cinema, even up to this day. Obi had started out acting as an assistant on a bunch of foreign productions shooting in Japan, starring the likes of Kirk Douglas. He also was a significant figure in the world of 8mm and 16mm experimental filmmaking (if you search for it, you can find a double-disc of these works on a Japanese DVD label). Then he drifted into commercial filmmaking, where he was one of the first directors, if not the first, to use foreign talent to hawk Japanese products. Ever seen those Charles Bronson "Mandom" ads on YouTube? Yep, that was Obi.

I wish I knew more about how HOUSE came about as a feature film, and how Obayashi's career drifted between all these disparate poles - one of my great wishes these days is to interview him for a DVD of the film. I do know that Obayashi's teenage daughter wrote the original story for the film, and that screenwriter Chiho Katsura is credited with the script. (We interviewed Katsura for Criterion's DVD of Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku way back when - he was a good friend of the director.)

Maybe that's in the future for us, but I can say this: if you watch the film and like it, make your opinion know. Send an email to IFC or call them, and tell them how you dug the movie and wish they'd show more stuff like it. Then send an email to Criterion and ask them to (finally) release the movie on DVD. As far as we know, no plans are afoot to do so...yet. Janus Films has owned the rights to the title for quite a number of years, but has been sitting on a nice HD master for all this time. How do we know this? Because I was the one who recommended they buy it, and it gives me a great feeling to know that a bunch of other people are finally going to get to experience the electric charge I felt when I first watched the film.

HOUSE shows on IFC early in the morning on Saturday, November 22nd. First show is at midnight (Friday night/Saturday morning), followed by a repeat at 3:00 am.


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