by: Dr. Boogie
In the past, we've brought you some outstanding examples of Asian cinema. In Ichi the Killer, we learned that you can wind up rooting for a man who dumps boiling oil on people and slices off his own tongue for fun. With Riki-Oh, we saw what an enterprising special effects department can do with 500 lb of hamburger. It is in that rich tradition that I bring you one of the most sterling examples of Japanese horror: a haunted house-type movie simply entitled "Hausu" (or "House").
I'm not even sure how to describe Hausu. All I can think to say is that Hausu is a Japanese horror movie from 1977 where the horror doesn't come from scary monsters, or an ominous atmosphere, or any of that. The scares in Hausu come from watching each scene and realizing that you don't have the slightest idea of what you're seeing, or even why certain things were included in the movie at all!
Somewhere out there is a person who will watch this movie and understand everything that's going on. And that alone frightens me most of all.
You know you're in for it when the logo for the movie you're watching proudly declares that it is "a movie".
Meet our two main characters, "Gorgeous" and "Fantasy". They probably have real names, but every single person in the movie, including their parents, calls them "Gorgeous" and "Fantasy." It seems a surefire way to doom your daughter to a life working the pole.
It's the last day of school and the two of them are snapping some pictures. As they leave, their gym teachers asks them what they'll be up to during the summer break. Gorgeous will be heading to Karuizawa, a small town in Nagano. Fantasy and her friends will be staying at an inn run by the sister of Mr. Togo, one of their teachers. They aren't the only ones with plans for the summer, it turns out: the girls congratulate their gym teacher on her upcoming marriage. They ask if she's marrying for love, but no, she explains that it's an arranged marriage. So the conversation ends on kind of an awkward note.
Back at home, Gorgeous discovers that her dad has arrived home a day earlier from Italy. Is that odd, a single parent leaving his teenage daughter home alone for weeks on end? If so, then don't worry: her dad has a partial solution.
While he was in Italy, Gorgeous' dad picked up a jewelry designer named Ryoko Ema. It must have been a long courtship because Ryoko is practically moving in slow motion and always has a strong wind blowing against her. In spite of that, Gorgeous' dad remarks that she is "surprisingly good at cooking." Kind of a dickish thing to say in front of your new wide-to-be. Ryoko calls him out on it, though he doesn't get the slap on the back of the head that he surely deserves.
Dad is hoping to bring his new catch with them when they go to Karuizawa. Gorgeous flips out and runs off, refusing to make the trip with them. By the way, you may have noticed that the scene has a painted background like an old Mexican soap opera. Get used to these, and get used to characters drawing attention to them.
In Gorgeous' room, we see the importance of being specific when you ask for a wallpaper with a floral pattern. Gorgeous is feeling down about having a new mom to replace the one she lost eight years ago. She takes a moment to change out of her school uniform and into something a little more reminisce-y.
Gorgeous spends a few minutes looking over some old photos of her with her parents, reflecting on the good times they shared. It's a tender scene, or at least it would be without Gorgeous talking to her dead mother and saying things like, "dad has failed us," and "I'll bully him," while angrily scratching out his face on the old pictures.
But enough of that, let's throw a few more victims in the hopper:
Meet the rest of the girls: "Mac," "Prof," "Kung Fu," "Sweet," and "Melody". Some might call this naming convention an oversight by the writer, who likely wrote in those names as placeholders to describe characters he intended to name later, but it's actually quite handy. Each girl has a nickname that describes their most notable characteristic. Kung Fu, for example, has slightly better-than-average reflexes, while Mac has diabetes.
The girls are tittering over their upcoming trip to the mysterious Mr. Togo's place when who should arrive...
Why, it's Mr. Togo himself. And he's driving his signature dune buggy! What a memorable character.
Sadly, Mr. Togo has bad news for the girls: his sister's inn is closed due to her impending pregnancy. Just think: this movie was this close to being a horror movie about a grown man menacing a group of teenage girls at a secluded cabin.
The girls lament such a missed opportunity, but Gorgeous offers an alternative: come with her to her aunt's place in Karuizawa. Now all that's left to do is tell the rest of her family that a bunch of annoying teenagers will be joining them on their summer break.
I don't know much about Karuizawa, but apparently they don't have great phone service because Gorgeous decides to ask her aunt's permission via snail mail. And in case you thought Gorgeous was imposing on her aunt by inviting a bunch of friends to crash at her place, the letter reveals that Gorgeous has only met her aunt once before!
Nevertheless, a response from her aunt arrives back after an indeterminate amount of time. She's fine with the uninvited guests, and it looks like Gorgeous might have a decent summer vacation after all... except that, unbeknownst to her, Ryoko is planning to join her later to get in a little bonding time. She'll be joining Gorgeous later on because it will take much longer for her to travel to Karuizawa in slow motion.
Also, a mysterious white cat has appeared. Gorgeous adopts the cat and names it "Blanche," because everyone and everything should have a simple, descriptive nickname.
This next scene comes out of nowhere: taking a break from the events of the film, we join a group of people who are just about to launch into some kind of musical number. As the swelling music gives way to some folk rock sung in English, we see that this is actually a strangely-elaborate setup for some physical comedy with Mr. Togo: he trips over Gorgeous' cat and falls down a flight of stairs.
A painful spill, no doubt, but it's nothing compared to what's waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. I don't need to tell you people what happens when you slide down some stairs and bump into a bucket:
I like to think that this is the scene that won Nobuhiko Ohbayashi his "Best New Director" award.
But before you go deciding that this scene has no purpose, we find out that Mr. Togo was planning to join the girls in Karuizawa, but he can't because he has to go to the hospital to have that bucket surgically removed from his ass. I know what you're thinking: why doesn't he just sit down on the bucket and let the magic of stop-motion animation scoot him all the way to Karuizawa? I guess he could. At this point in the movie, anything's possible.
There's still plenty more Hausu madness to see!
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