Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dosed.... Notes from the Underground

We are very proud to present as the next installment of Dosed
Our Sister in Space
Ego Sensation
of White Hills

House 1977
Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
A movie review by Ego Sensation

I have come to the poignant realization that "cheesy" is the short bridge between reality and fantasy: the space in the middle of the mundane and the otherworldly. I discovered this on my third viewing of House, a Japanese horror/fantasy film from 1977 directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. It was a cold, late night in London when my friend Heather first introduced me to the film. "You're welcome", she said as my mouth dropped to the floor 30 seconds into the movie. And here's the deal: once the acid kicks in, it keeps giving for the entire 1 hour and 28 minutes.

House is my new favorite movie and I'll tell you why: I was entertained, transported out of reality and inspired for the entire duration of the film. From acid drenched sequences of a chandelier coming alive to seemingly non-sequitur musical interludes to innocent 70s photo-style dreamy effects, it's truly a psychedelic masterpiece.

The basic plot is as follows: seven schoolgirls, Gorgeous, Fantasy, Sweet, Prof, Mac, Melody and Kung Fu (played by young models the director had worked with on commercials), go to the country to spend their summer vacation with Gorgeous' wheelchair bound-auntie only to become terrorized by her haunted house. Forget about the storyline however as it is entirely auxiliary to the true genius of the film which lies in the direction, the artistry and the technique.

Obayashi’s direction turns what was meant to be a horror film created to compete with the popular American movie Jaws and elevates it to an artistic theatrical production. The acting in this film could be described as campy or over the top- completely playing to the back of the room. This lends perfectly to the film’s entire aesthetic- a complete suspension of disbelief narratively and visually. Simple blocking moves are used to create especially creepy dramatic effects. For instance, the seven girls gather in auntie’s piano room and simultaneously freeze as auntie appears to glide into the room in her wheelchair. It’s such a basic move yet so visually arresting. Sometimes he even takes them out of their supposed location to an altered fantasy space such as when they ride the train out to aunties and are transported into an open area against a moving painted backdrop mimicking their ride through the countryside.

The art direction on House infuses a playful candy land sensibility with a fantastical romanticism. First of all, the color is spectacular though black and white as well as muted tones are used additionally for certain themed effects. Several scenes use hyper-realistic painted backdrops of spectacular sunsets and landscapes. One particularly clever set appears in a scene at Gorgeous’ home. The action takes place on the balcony but is shot from the inside through a series of windowpanes that are filled with beveled glass. The result is simple and stunning: the camera drifts back and forth allowing the beveled glass to create a ghost-like doubling effect to the characters’ movements. The film is full of simple yet genius tricks like these that elevate its quality far beyond the plot or characters. Even simple elements such as scarves and flowing drapes are used to dramatic effect with the help of fans.

Special effects are used often and freely in this film without an ounce of self-consciousness. It’s kind of like an ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce, peanut butter, chocolate chips, fresh strawberries, raspberries, whipped cream, marzipan, and yummy thing after decadent treat. You might say, “That’s too much!” but why would you say that if you like sweets? To deprive yourself? Well, for the martyrs out there I’m going to suggest Bergman’s Persona (an amazing film I might add) but for the hedonists, check out the abundance of 70s photo filter effects, animation and split screens that House has to offer. In one scene, pieces of Gorgeous’ face break off revealing a fire underneath. What makes many of the effects so fantastic is that while we’ve become accustomed to the plethora of today’s digital possibilities, seeing work that was done most likely with an optical printer appears charming and somehow more authentic. The collection of techniques used in a scene where the piano devours Melody builds a beautiful surreal sequence in the space of a minute and a half.

I can’t finish this without mentioning the exceptional sound design. The music, by Mickie Yoshino and Asei Kobayashi, is alternately creepy and exuberant meeting the film’s needs perfectly. Sound effects are placed with brilliance to create eerie dimension to scenes. The editing is also choice: cleverly throwing the viewer off at all the right moments. Everyone that worked on this film deserves a round of applause in my opinion.

An interview with Obayashi and his daughter at the end of the film reveals that most of the ideas in the story were derived from her imagination as a ten-year-old child. House reads accordingly. It’s a trip to Coney Island without taking the train.

I was convinced I’d have trouble finding the film in the states as it seemed obscure to me but I was surprised to find it available on netflix. So there. Enjoy!