Hausu is a 1977 film made by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who had previously done commercials and experimental short films. Just previous to making this film, he had been busy with making a series of commercials for Japanese television featuring major American stars like Kurt Douglas and Charles Bronson. Toho, the biggest film company in Japan, wanted to make a film like Jaws, so Ôbayashi and his daughter came up with a script that is not only very unlike Jaws, but unlike anything else ever made. A young girl called Gorgeous, played by Kimiko Ikegami, goes to stay with her aunt. Six of her friends come along (Kung Fu, Melody, Fantasy, Prof, Mac and Sweet). And as you might expect, the aunt’s house turns out to be haunted, and they are slowly killed off as strange things start to happen.
Ôbayashi’s daughter Chigumi was a pre-teen when she wrote the script, which was partially based on her nightmares. The director has said that she came up with things that “can’t be explained.” None of the in-house directors at Toho wanted to take it on, because they thought it would end their film careers. However, before the film was ever made, the soundtrack had been released as well as a novelisation and radio adaptation. The intended market was teenage girls.
The film combines really bad animation with live action, which somehow adds to it. There are insane practical effects and psychedelic matte paintings where people’s heads are floating around—a crazy movie in every way that goes off in all directions. There’s an amazing demonic cat in it, and visually it’s breathtaking. There’s an extraordinary scene where they get on a train, with bright colour design and fast-forwards creating an utterly bizarre sequence. It’s jaw-dropping sequence after another.
It’s been suggested that the director may have been on something when he made it, but maybe he was just warped. It’s a pop-art movie, with all kinds of crazy comic-book inserts—absolute genius.
The soundtrack and the score are also amazing. There’s a great power-pop song called “Cherries are Made for Eating.”
The director was a Hiroshima survivor, and there is a whole aspect of the plot where the aunt is waiting for her fiancée to return from the war. It also has hands down the greatest bloodbath ever put on screen.
The end result was a bewilderingly strange and original film—the kind of thing that as you’re watching it you say to yourself: “how does this even exist?”
The film was very successful with the Japanese youth audience, but was not really shown outside Japan until Janus Films bought the rights to it for the US, and Masters of Cinema grabbed the UK rights. I kind of wish someone would release more of Ôbayashi’s films, assuming they are similar.
Special features on this updated Masters of Cinema release include 90 minutes of archival interviews with director Nobuhiko Obayashi, scenarist Chigumi Obayashi, actress Kumiko Oba, and Toho promotional executive Shoho Tomiyama, all of which are carried over from their initial DVD release. The new Blu-Ray also features a video essay by David Cairns, the great trailer, and a booklet with an essay by Paul Roquet.