Saturday, October 14, 2017

Asian Audient: House

This is the October installment of Asian Audient, a series in which I watch one movie from Asia every month in 2017. And aren't I clever?

I certainly wasn't planning to write a blog post while away in my hotel for the weekend watching movies, but then I discovered, to my surprise, that my room has free WiFi. I discovered it by noticing that my computer had automatically connected to the wireless ... from the last time I was here. You'd think I would remember that I was connected the last time I was here, but I didn't. Free WiFi is not one of the offerings on the website, and there's a computer in the lobby where the guests can connect to the internet. For some reason, I thought that was the sum total of this place's internet.

I still might not have written a post today except that I think it's probably a good idea to isolate my Asian Audient viewing, my fourth viewing on Friday after I checked in, as its own post, rather than letting it get lost in a sea of 10+ movies in tomorrow's post. It's the least I can do. And now I have the internet to do it.

I knew in October I wanted to watch a horror movie to honor Halloween, and I figured a J-horror would be a good choice. Last month I told you it would be Ringu, but you know what? I can't source that anywhere, and I'm still a guy who obtains his movies by legal means.

Then I noticed a friend post on Letterboxd that he had seen House, the 1977 Japanese horror that's supposed to be all sorts of batshit crazy, and that he gave it five stars. I've heard House recommended a bunch over the years, most recently on a podcast within the past year or so, and lo and behold, it was available from iTunes. So I got some J-horror after all, it's just from before that term actually meant anything.

House is, indeed, batshit crazy.


It follows a story of a Japanese schoolgirl who invites six friends to her aunt's home in the country over school vacation. One by one, the house proceeds to eat them.

Sounds gruesome, but it's not, or not very, because the whole thing is told like an extremely innocent fairytale that goes bananas from time to time, or all the time. You know when people spoof Japanese subject matter and it includes a lot of wild zooms, quick cuts, and bizarre and inexplicable things happening? I'm convinced that House is the starting point for all of that.

There are numerous things I could tell you about what happens, except it's all like a bit of a fever dream, but a happy fever dream -- the score is almost always buoyant to the point of being dopey, in keeping with the fairytale presentation. But some of the things I remember is that a disembodied head flies around and bites people, a piano eats a girl, a girl gets trapped inside a grandfather clock and ground into a bloody goo by its gears, and at one point, for no reason that is clear at all, a man sticks his head into the frame and aggressively eats noodles, at which point the film cuts away to three or four men eating noodles in some other location before returning to the main thrust of the "narrative" just as suddenly.

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi achieves his special effects through mattes and other construction paper-type techniques, as well as other tricks that I also probably can't effectively describe. House is truly a film that needs to be seen to be fully understood -- and by "understood" I mean simply understanding its singular atmosphere. I don't know that there is any possibility of actually understanding House, as such.

Throughout these apparently horrible things that are rendered rather innocuous by the distinctly Japanese logic that informs the aforementioned spoofs, there's a throughline about the aunt waiting for her beloved to return from World War II, which informs the powers she has and the nature of her existence. There's also a bit about the protagonist's father having remarried and the stepmother wanting to connect with her. Many of these scenes occur in settings that today we would recognize as the realm of Michel Gondry, or possibly a crazier version of Wes Anderson (but without all the compositional exactitude).

I find myself at a loss to put into words exactly what it's like watching this movie, and I suspect I shall soon abandon the attempt. I did want to say that while I thought this film was a gas for much of the time, the overriding impression I have of it is that it didn't quite perfectly land for me. There's the temptation to reward such total insanity with a perfect or near-perfect star rating, but I have to admit that it didn't get all the way there for me. So my star rating is just below that, which still honors the singular nature of the film.

Because the film defies categorization so stridently, it didn't totally scratch my itch for J-horror, but you know, Ringu just isn't anywhere right now.

Don't know exactly what's in store for November and December, but I do know I'm going to make one more visit to China, and hopefully one more visit to one other country that is not either Japan or China, or preferably Korea, which I have already visited twice as well.

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