Nobuhiko Obayashi’s bizarre House goes too far

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      Starring Kimiko Ikegami and Eriko Tanaka. In Japanese with English subtitles. Unrated.

      Originality isn’t everything. Consider the case of House, a 1977 Japanese cult-horror film that has finally made its way to North American cinemas. Supposedly inspired by the free associations of director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 11-year-old daughter, the film is so different from every other entry in its genre that it has left critics scrambling helplessly for meaningful similes.

      These cross-references often end with the words “on acid” because the tone of House falls somewhere between the psychedelic and the psychotropic. Its images aren’t just dreamlike—they suggest altered brain chemistry. Sadly, like all such hallucinations, they are without emotion.

      The film’s plot is very simple. A schoolgirl is pissed off that her father is planning to remarry eight years after her mother died. In a huff, she takes six of her best friends to visit the home of her aging aunt, a Japanese Miss Havisham still awaiting the return of a fiancé killed in the war.

      Watch the trailer for House.

      The house, however, is not what it seems. Neither is the aunt. Indeed, both entities are spiritually omnivorous, as are their minions (a bloodthirsty piano, an innocent-looking cat). This is the kind of fairy tale that Bruno Bettelheim championed in The Uses of Enchantment, a book arguing that such fables allow children to safely discharge psychologically unacceptable aggression. To alter the world as we know it, Obayashi uses just about every predigital trick imaginable (which lean towards the cheesy), and the musical score is always inappropriate for whatever happens to be going on.

      I found it impossible to become engaged with the film on any level whatsoever. If you can’t care about the characters, you can’t care about what happens to them. House’s spirit of “let’s pretend” goes too far. This isn’t just make-believe. This is out-and-out indifference.