There is absolutely no proper way to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (which retained its English title in its native country of Japan as a way of keeping things “taboo”). An actual review of this film would only consist of a brief plot summary and explanations of the various events that occur during the course of the film’s running time. The film was released by Toho, a popular and well known film company in Japan. Toho decided to take a chance with this film, which was partially written by Obayashi and inspired by the imagination of his daughter. It was hated by Japanese critics but a hit with young audiences, so it was quite successful. The film never saw a North American release date until only recently, when Janus Films bought the distribution rights and released it theatrically in 2009; the result was a hit with the midnight-movie crowd and more positive reception from critics, helping this one-of-a-kind film achieve cult status.
The film’s plot concerns a girl and her 6 classmates, each of them going by a nickname: Gorgeous, Sweet, Prof, Fantasy, Mac, Melody, and (my personal favorite) Kung Fu. Gorgeous invites them all to her aunt’s house after their initial summer vacation plans don’t work out. Once there, weird things start to happen.
Majority of this movie takes place in the titular house (or mansion, whatever you wanna call it), but even from the beginning, this movie acts strange. From odd camera styles, to questionable transitions (wipes, fades, those sorts of things), this film lets on early that it’s weird. Most of the things that happen have no meaning or anything like that; it’s just random. Weird things happen for absolutely no reason — there are so many bizarre events and occurrences that trying to describe them all or explain them all is pointless, but describing the events can also spoil it for anyone wanting to see this movie. Some highlights that I don’t mind mentioning include the cat Blanche (watch out for that cat!), a scene involving pieces of wood, a scene involving large lips, and a scene involving what can only be described as a dance sequence (you’ll know it when you see it).
While the plot may seem nonsensical, it apparently has underlying themes on WWII and what not. This mainly has to do with the aunt, but I won’t go into it. I’d rather talk about the main characters, because they’re pretty interesting and unique. Each of their nicknames reflects them in some way: Gorgeous is seen to be the most beautiful and glamorous of the group; Sweet is, well, the sweetest and probably the cutest of the group, as well as the most innocent; Prof is the brains of the group, wearing glasses and reading at various points during the film; Fantasy is the one who starts to see the odd events before anyone else realizes they exist, so naturally, they say it’s her imagination; Mac is always hungry and eating something; Kung Fu is a martial artist and takes the initiative to do things, as well as use her martial arts skills to defend the girls (but she also uses her skills to do other non-lethal stuff). Another character worthy of mentioning is Mr. Togo, who was originally going to take the 6 girls (not including Gorgeous) to some training camp thing, but it didn’t work out, so he also got invited to go to Gorgeous’s aunt’s house. This character doesn’t show up very often, but he’s extremely humorous and gives, what in my opinion is, the funniest line in the whole movie (“Bananas!”); the line itself may not be too funny, but the way he says it and the context in which he says it makes it hysterical.
Overall, House is the craziest movie I’ve ever seen (Eraserhead, eat your heart out!). It’s a film that features intentionally cheesy effects, random background music, unique characters, and a house full of stuff that kills people. I don’t know if I’d recommend it to just anyone, but given its odd ball approach and anything goes way of being, I’d say anyone can see it if they want to. There’s a few scenes of nudity and gore, but for the most part it’s just a silly and (believe it or not) joyous film that only aims to entertain. If you’re a fan of midnight movies or Japanese cinema, I definitely recommend it. If you’re a fan of movies that make no sense and mess with your head, I highly recommend it. In the end, there is no proper way to review House or explain it; you’ll just have to see it for yourself. And if you do decide to see it, be aware that what you’re going to see isn’t from this planet.