-Written by Robert O’ Doherty
When Jaws became a mega-hit in the States, Toho wanted to ride that green wave, so they hired Nobuhhiko Obayashi to develop a similar script. Obayashi and Chiho Katsura worked on the script that incorporated ideas from Obayashi’s young daughter (such as her childlike fears), and the Hiroshima bombing. Already this does not sound like a Jaws flick at all. The script was presented Toho with the title House; not a very exciting title. The script was green-lit, but no one at Toho would direct it because they feared it would end their careers – why you may ask? – because House is so ambitious, you won’t believe what you’re seeing half the time; it’s a ground-breaking movie for 1977 and even today, I haven’t seen anything quite like it, so you can see things from Toho’s perspective .
So let me try to explain the plot to you. A young girl, Gorgeous (a nickname that represents her personality) is in high anticipation to go on vacation with her father, while her other friends (Prof, Melody, Kung Fu, Mac [she’s fat, probably short for ‘Big Mac’], Sweet, and Fantasy) plan on going on their own trip, but it gets cancelled at the last second. The nickname thing is kinda stupid, but it automatically sums up each character without spending wasteful time developing each one – which is ok because the flick is so nuts, you don’t worry about character development. When Gorgeous arrives home, daddy has a surprise waiting – a new mommy! Gorgeous ain’t down with that, so she asks her estranged Aunt (Yoko Minamida) if she, with her friends and newly discovered cat (Blanche) could spend time some with her. Of course auntie welcomes everyone. Up to this point, everything seems to be playing like a soap opera with Beetles like music jamming in the background. I really dug this a lot as it’s a total contrast of what’s to come later.
While the girls journey by train, we get some amazing shots done with avant-garde techniques as a tale by Gorgeous is told about mother and sister. The past is played like a silent movie with the girls commentating over it. This is where House really caught me off guard. The different styles of story telling is impressive and you can tell that this flick is clearly ahead of it’s time
When the girls arrive, Aunt – in a wheelchair – greets everyone with big smiles. The girls enter the enormous house with curiosity and childlike wonder. Instantly shit goes down as sharp pieces of a chandelier break and only for Kung Fu (who were you expecting, Melody?) they miss the girls. This results in the girls giggling…they won’t continue to giggle for much longer, I tell you! As the girls continue to explore, a pleasant, but haunting score plays. It’s not until Mac goes missing that the real horror begins.
The horror itself is cartoonish and silly, but it’s also fun and charming at the same time. Some of the blue screen used looks outdated, but clearly Obayashi wanted to experiment as much as he could with the effects he had at his disposal. For 1977, this must’ve been ground breaking stuff in terms of usability. I don’t want to talk much more about the plot because it’s a ghostly tale that get’s slowly unsolved by the girls, plus, Obayashi used such experimental techniques for a reason; the visuals and story are a harmony.
House is a blast. I encourage you not to watch the trailer if you haven’t seen it already and just dive right in like I did; you’ll get a much richer experience that way.