Tuesday, January 05, 2010

HOUSE review, Variety, 1977

In honor of the U.S. opening—after nearly 33 years!—of Nobuhiko Obayashi's brilliant horror hybrid HOUSE (aka HAUSU), here is the complete Variety review of the film from 1977. I think it betrays a still-ongoing prejudice against popular Asian cinema in its assumption that the mixed genres might be a mistake or fortuitous accident on the part of the filmmaker. Can you imagine a legitimate film critic asking the same thing about a film by Luis Buñuel or or Jean-Luc Godard? (For comparison, check out the great, recent reviews from The L Magazine and Time Out NY.)

HOUSE opens tomorrow, Friday January 15th, at Manhattan's IFC Center, and its newly-struck, English-subtitled 35mm print plays there for a week before moving to locations across the U.S. and Canada in the spring and early summer. Catch it while you can! Oh, and here's the trailer.

Tokyo, Sept. 13 [1977]

A Toho release. Features entire cast. Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Produced by Nobuhiko Obayashi and Norihiko Yamada. Screenplay, Chiho Katsura; camera, Yoshihisa Sakamoto; art director, Kazuo Satsuya; editor, Nobuo Oawa; music, Asei Kobayashi and Miki Yoshino; asst. director, Yasuhira Oguri. Reviewed at the Chiyoda Gekijo, Tokyo, Aug. 26, '77. Running time: 87 MINS.

Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Oba, Ai Matsubara, Miki Jinbo, Mieko Sato, Miyako Masayo, Eriko Tanaka, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasagawa, Haruko Wanibuchi [
Note: they forgot Yoko Minamida, who plays the villainous Auntie!]

This is the first feature length film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and a very puzzling debut it is, too. Formerly a director of tv commercials, Obayashi is either a brilliant conscious satirist or a brilliant unconscious satirist; his "House" either an unintentionally funny compendium of the stylistic conventions of Japanese tube sell or an intentional send-up of those conventions.

The plot is a variation on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians." Seven young ladies spending their summer holidays in a spooky old house owned by a spooky old lady begin disappearing one by one.

Too often it appears Obayashi's only purpose in mounting this tale was self-promotion: seldom has a director used so many scenes to draw attention to his "cleverness." Still, beneath this superficial bravura, there are comic bits and snippets which almost, but do not quite, add up to an indictment of Japan's over-commercialization (i.e. its flood of sell copy.)

Whenever actress Haruko Wanibuchi appears on screen, she walks with the slow, exaggerated stride of a featured player in a 60-second spot for cosmetics, her hair and the scarf around her neck blown by a private breeze which touches no one near her. Among the unlucky seven young ladies are those who take as their nicknames the names of mass-produced food and drink. [Note: So that's where this error began! Only a couple of the girls have names that could conceivably be taken from food or drink names; in reality, the names just reflect their personalities.] The clothes of the main characters are often color coordinated with their patently unnatural pastel-shaded surroundings.

Still, questions nag. Was the director kidding? The dialog, as is the case with most air sell, is banal, but is it purposely banal? Background music, as is the case with most commercials, is insistent, but is its intrusiveness calculated or accidental?

Most cast members are either talented or pleasant to look at, or both. Top-billed Kimiko Ikegami has a marvelously changeable fashion model face and is capable of looking winsomely innocent or frighteningly mature for her age.

"House," a good indication of what this country's new generation of filmmakers is up to, will probably not do too well abroad. Too much of the film's humor is dependent upon a familiarity with Japanese media personalities, tv shows and movie series. --Bail.


Blogger Ted Geoghegan said...

The review doesn't say quite enough about the absurdity of the film, which I feel is really one of its major selling points. Its all fine and good that the girls are pretty, its well-acted, and the direction is somewhat wild, but what kind of critic can overlook the insanity that binds the movie together?

Still, I'm surprised they were as open-minded to it as they were. I can't wait to see what the reviews are going to be like now that everyone is finally going to have the chance to watch this little gem.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Chuck Stephens said...

""House," a good indication of what this country's new generation of filmmakers is up to..."

Huh? The film was made over a quarter of a century ago!

8:10 AM  
Blogger a fog of ideas said...

... and that review is from a quarter of a century ago

2:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home