House (1977) by Nobuhiko Obayashi

"Eh? My fingers are gone!"

 
                                               
When Luis Buñuel, that legendary, genius director among legendary, genius directors, refused the order of his mentor, Jean Epstein, to assist Epstein's mentor, Abel Gance, Epstein reportedly chided Buñuel by calling him a little prick compared to Gance and ending his scolding of the aspiring filmmaker by saying, "You seem rather surrealist. Beware of surrealists, they're crazy people." Reportedly, this took place some time in 1927.

Fast forward almost one hundred years later, Epstein's words toward the father of cinematic surrealism sound glaringly ridiculous now for two reasons.

Firstly, while Abel Gance's stature of a revered pioneer remains legit, Luis Buñuel's stature is much higher. His accolades, influence, and filmography, with all due respect, dwarf not only Gance's but also Epstein's. The frequency of Buñuel's body of work appearing at the top or near the top of lists belonging to the likes of Sight & Sound or They Shoot Pictures Don't They? is shared neither by Epstein's nor Gance's. Buñuel is peerless, a cinematic genius whose style and substance are immediately apparent when you have the honor and the willingness of embracing his work. And no less than Alfred Hitchcock, regarded Luis Buñuel as the best director in the world.

Lastly, rather than crazy people, surrealists seem more to be daring, innovative, and maybe even timeless. From the beginning of its movement in the 1920s to this very day, surrealism influenced countless products of film, music, literature, and visual arts all over the globe. The most famous example of early surrealist film is no doubt Luis Buñuel's own Un Chien Andalou (1929), a short masterpiece he made in collaboration with his then best friend, the inimitable Salvador Dalí. Of their approach to creating the film, Buñuel remarked, "Our only rule was very simple: no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why".

I would like to believe Nobuhiko Obayashi had the same train of thought before he made House (1977), the only Japanese film that could rival Branded to Kill (1967) for the title of the weirdest Japanese film ever made.

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Let's start with the most trivial aspect of the film: the story.

 A high school girl and her six friends travel to a country home owned by her aunt, that turns out to be aiming to have the girls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Nothing new, huh? A haunted house story among billions of haunted house stories you've probably seen or heard a billion times in your life. 

But what elevates this to the status of a classic is the way it presents itself. Imagine an episode of Looney Tunes directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky & written by Sam Raimi and it would still not cover even half of the film's weirdness. "House" is a strange film that grows stranger as whatever resembles the plot progresses. It molds style, family drama, friendship tale, summer vacation, train ride, flashbacks, voice over, haunted house, lost love, silly hair, psychedelic wackiness, wind blowing machine, over the top acting, freeze frames, animated background, bones, dismemberment, a decapitating well, a laughing (and biting) head, mattresses that undress a teenage girl, a clock that runs on the undressed teenage girl, a woman-eating piano, a warrior-eating lamp, watermelons, bananas, possession by hair treatment, out-of-nowhere nudity, buckets of blood, out-of-this-world fight scenes, a body of water that strips a genius, campy jokes, and a cat into one film. It's a work which must be seen to be believed and even then it is guaranteed to surpass your wildest imagination.


Legend has it that much of the plot derived from the musings of Obayashi's then 11-year old daughter, which explains why the story is what it is. But of course the film's weirdness is Obayashi's himself. Formerly a director of advertisements, he opted to use a wealth of techniques to bring the film to life. Soft focus lens? Check. Stop-motion animation? Check. Quick cut? Check. Imposed images? Check. Color filters? Check, check, check. 

We are never confused of what's happening in "House". Everything is there to see. But all the same, we cannot tell what will happen next. This, in itself, is an achievement, for it means Obayashi had the audacity to follow his guts and trust his audience at the same time. Something which cannot be said for most filmmakers. And it showed maturity, especially considering this film was Obayashi's first full-length feature. 

I can say without any reservation that this film is a one and only. Its originality has never been matched before or since. The critics absolutely love it (House has a 90% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes) and the film is now part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. 1977 also saw the debut of David Lynch, a filmmaker also known for his surrealistic work, with Eraserhead. It speaks volumes of how strange a film is the strangest film of David Lynch is nowhere near as strange.


Speaking from a personal viewpoint, I consider "House" to be one of the only 2 horror films to acquiesce to the rules previously spoken by Luis Buñuel, the other film being Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr (1932). Of course, this doesn't mean the film is senseless. This simply means the film isn't meant to be analyzed for meaning. It goes without saying that looking for meanings is all too common in films, let alone surrealistic films. Luis Buñuel famously hated the critics' interpretations of his work. As a fan of his work, I never personally looked for meanings whenever I had the chance to enjoy his films. I couldn't help but feel "House" is also a film, where, if you come at it looking for meanings, then you would be arriving at the wrong address. Not because the film is meaningless, you see, but because meanings might not be the film's primary objective to begin with. Its meaning really lies in the creativity of the director who was willing to share what he had in mind with all of us.

House elevates most everyday occurrences like riding a train and preparing to eat a fruit to such heights that most of our minds couldn't even conjure. Would it be inaccurate to admit that I believe Obayashi went for broke with his first film? He made short art films during the 1950s and 1960s while also dabbling in commercials. He was almost 40 before he got to debut, and just like many film greats who were late bloomers (like Mario Bava and Michael Haneke), he never topped his first film, because the first film feels like a burst or even an explosion of buried and repressed imaginations which were previously dormant for years if not decades. Obayashi had a fulfilling career following "House", but this is the film the whole world will remember him for. Without question, it is his magnum opus.


If someone were to say to my face, "Beware of surrealists! They're crazy people!", I would respectfully respond, "Call them daring, call them innovative, but never call them crazy".

"House" is a film where a music-loving girl who just had her fingers chewed off by a grand piano nonchalantly looked, smiled, and remarked how her fingers are now gone. She followed it by a shriek, but her smile never really left her face as the piano slowly devoured her. Alive.

How many things are more daring and innovative than that?

-This review is written by Omar Rasya Joenoes-


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Lee Sang-il,1,Rahul Jain,1,Railway Sleepers,1,Rainy Dog,1,Raja Mukhriz,1,Rajkumar Gupta,1,Ram,1,Ram Gopal Varma,1,Randy Mckenzie,4,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead,1,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2,1,Ravine of Goodbye,1,Re:Born,1,Real,1,Realism,1,Red Beard,1,Red Persimmons,1,Rei Sakamoto,1,Reipu zonbi: Lust of the dead 3,1,Resistance at Tule Lake,1,Respeto,2,Resurrection,1,Revenge: A love story,1,Review,9,Reviews,306,Reviews.,2,Reviews. Panos Kotzathanasis,1,Rima Das,1,Riri Riza,3,Ritwik Ghatak,2,River of Exploding Durians,2,River's Edge,3,Robin Weng,1,Roger Lee,2,Roman Porno,1,Ronja,1,Rouge,1,Rouven Linnarz,1,Roya Sadat,2,Running on Karma,1,Russia,1,RV: Resurrected Victims,1,Ryoo Seung-wan,2,Ryota Sakamaki,1,Ryu Kaneda,1,Ryuki,1,Ryutaro Ninomiya,2,S. 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Team,1,Sha Po Lang,1,Shake Rattle and Roll,1,Shakti Sounder Rajan,1,Shanjhey Kumar Perumal,1,Shanker Raman,1,Shaw Brothers,2,She Remembers He Forgets,2,She's the Boss,1,Shehjar,1,Shiboprosad Mukherjee,1,Shift,2,Shigeru Umebayashi,1,Shikhar Verma,13,Shikhar Verna,3,Shim Sung-Bo,1,Shinichi Fukazawa,1,Shinichiro Ueda,1,Shinji Iwai,1,Shinji Somai,2,Shinji Sômai,1,Shinjuku Swan,1,shinjuku Swan II,1,Shinjuku Triad Society,1,Shinobi no Kuni,2,Shinsuke Ogawa,1,Shinsuke Sato,2,Shinya Tsukamoto,4,Shireen Seno,2,Shirley Abraham,1,Shock Wave,1,Shôhei Imamura,1,Shoot for the Contents,1,Shorts,9,Shotaro Kobayashi,1,Shu Qi,1,Shuna Iijima,1,Shunji Iwai,2,Shutter,1,Shuttle Life,2,Shyam Ramsay,1,Siddiq Ahamed,1,Sidharth Bharathan,1,Sidi Saleh,1,Signature,1,Silent Mist,1,Silver Spleen,2,Singapore,3,Singh Anand,1,Singing Chen,1,Sinophone,1,Sion Sono,10,Siti,1,Sixth Sense Hooker,1,Slavemen,1,Sleep Curse,1,Small Talk,2,Smriti Mundhra,1,Sogo Ishii,2,Soichi Umezawa,1,Solanin,1,Solitude,1,Solo,1,Someone To Talk To,1,Sompot Chidgasompongse,2,Song Hae-sung,1,Song Kang-ho,1,Song of the Week,22,Sopawan Boonnimitra,1,Sopon Sakdapisit,1,Soul,1,Soul Mate,1,SoulMate,2,South Korea,24,Sri Lanka,3,Sridevi,1,Srijit Mukherji,8,Stammering Ballad,1,Stanley Kwan,1,Stanley Tong,1,Steel Rain,1,Stephen Chow,1,Stephen Fung,2,Steve James,1,Still the Water,1,Stoneman Murders,1,Story in Taipei,1,Strange Circus,1,Studio Ghibli,1,StudioCanal,4,Subenja Pongkorn,2,Suffering of Ninko,2,Sugihara Survivors: Jewish and Japanese,1,Suicide Club,1,Sukita: The Shoot Must Go On,1,Suman Mukhopadhay,1,Summer Snow,1,Sun-ho Cho,1,Sunao Katabuchi,3,Sunday Beauty Queen,1,Sung-hong Kim,1,Sunk Into the Womb,1,Sushama Deshpande,1,Susumu Hirasawa,1,Sweating the Small Stuff,2,Sylvia Chang,1,Tadashi Nagayama,1,Tae Guk Gi,1,Tag,1,Taiwan,28,Takaaki Hashiguchi,1,Takahide Hori,1,Takahiro Miko,1,Takahisa Zeze,1,Takao Nakano,1,Takaomi Ogata,4,Takashi Miike,10,Take Care of My Cat,1,Take Me to the Moon,1,Take Off,1,Takeo Kikuchi,2,Takeshi Kaneshiro,1,Takeshi Kitano,1,Takuro Nakamura,2,Talop Wangchuk,1,Tamil,4,Tamura Senichi,1,Tang Seng Kiat,2,Tanit Jitnukul,1,Tanvir Ashraf,2,Taste of Rice Flower,2,Tatara Samurai,1,Tatsuhi Omori,1,Tatsumi,1,Tatsumi Kumashiro,1,Teddy Soeriaatmadja,1,Teenkahon,1,Teppei Nakamura,1,Tetsuo the Iron Man,1,Tetsuya Mariko,1,Tetsuya Nakashima,1,Thailand,21,Thanatos Drunk,1,That's It,1,The Adventurers,2,The Apology,1,The Bad,1,The Blue Redemption,1,The Boy and the Beast,3,The boy from Ipanema,1,The Brink,1,The Chase,1,The Cinema Travellers,1,The Crawler in the Attic,1,The Crazy Family,1,The Day After,1,The Detective,1,The Discloser,1,The Dollhouse,1,The elephant and the sea,2,The Empty Hands,1,The Executioner,1,The Eye's Dream,1,The Forest Whispers,1,The Forsaken Land,1,The Fortress,1,The Gangster's Daughter,1,The Girl Who Never Knew War,1,The Golden Fortress,1,The Good,1,The Great Buddha+,1,The Great Passage,1,The Hole,1,The Hungry Lion,1,The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles,2,The Inugami Family,1,The Iron Ministry,1,The Island That All Flow By,1,The Isthmus,1,The Kid from the Big Apple,1,The King of Pigs,1,The Last Executioner,1,The Last Painting,1,The Long Excuse,1,The Looming Storm,1,The Lowlife,1,The Magic Blade,1,The Man Without a Map,1,The Mayor,1,The Merciless,2,The Mermaid,1,The Muse,1,The Naked Island,1,The Name,1,The Net,1,The Night of the Earthquake,1,The Outlaws,1,The Prison,1,The Promise,1,The Raid,1,The Raid 2,1,The recipe,1,The Road Home,1,The Road to Mandalay,1,the Robber's Daughter,1,The Room,1,The Sacrament,1,The Salesman,1,The Seen and Unseen,1,The Shoot Must Go On,1,The Sleep Curse,1,The Snow King,1,The Sower,2,The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam,1,The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine,1,The Suicide Chain,1,The Swindlers,1,The Table,1,The Third Murder,1,The Thousand Faces of Dunjia,1,The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale,1,The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue,1,The Tooth and the Nail,1,The Truth Beneath,1,The Vanished,1,The Villainess,3,The Violin Player,1,The Way We Are,1,The Weird,1,The Windmill Palm Grove,1,Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru,1,Third WIndow,1,This Is Not What I Expected,1,This Is Not What I Expected!,1,Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum,1,Thop Nazareno,1,Three Sisters,1,Three Times,1,Tiffany Hsiung,1,Tik Tik Tik,1,Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan,1,Tokyo Ghoul,1,Tokyo Heaven,1,Tokyo Idols,1,Tokyo Vampire Hotel,1,Tolerance Film Festival,1,Tom Waller,2,Tony Leung,1,Tony Takitani,1,Torico,2,Toronto International Film Festival,1,Toshiaki Toyoda,2,Toshihisa Yokoshima,3,Toshimasha Kobayashi,1,Toshio Matsumoto,1,Toshiya Fujita,1,Toshiyuki Teruya,1,Town in a Lake,1,Traces of Sin,1,Trailers,85,Train to Busan,1,Tran Ham,1,Translated articles,1,Trapped,1,Travellers and Magicians,1,Treb Monteras II,2,Trinh T. 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Asian Film Vault: House (1977) by Nobuhiko Obayashi
House (1977) by Nobuhiko Obayashi
"Eh? My fingers are gone!"
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Asian Film Vault
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