House directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi is a film which makes one glad simply because of how inventive it is – even if it’s not great. Never have so many cinematic techniques been crammed into one small film: still montages, wipes, irises, superimposition, distortion, black and white; the list is seemingly endless. It not only uses them but uses them correctly, well and never without some justification.
The second technical thing of note to House was that as the film was about to start it became clear by the side masking sliding in that the film was shot in 4:3. This is an interesting and effective decision for a number of reasons. It’s interesting because with the advent of Cinemascope shooting full-frame quickly became passé but this decision is incredibly inspired as it gives you a myopic glimpse into a kinetic world that holds your gaze completely.
The tone of this film is an interesting one. While it is great that it does build up the protagonist, and we get to know her and her friends, the tone shifts radically many times which shift focus away from her character later on. In terms of differing tones, there is a very tender scene between the protagonist and her father, several slapstick portions reminiscent of silents, comedic portions in the open and Kung Fu; then as they arrive and stay at the aunt’s house it will stay mainly horror but blend all that came before in and more. While the tale is one of witchcraft and occasional gore, it’s never what you would call terrifying but always entertaining even if predictable in terms of its end result.
It’s ultimately a very fun movie to sit and watch, even if you’re not in to counting techniques. It is, however, better if you are not thrown by things which come out of left-field because almost everything does.
To watch this film you will also need a very high tolerance for bad pre-1980 effects work because there are times you can taste the green screen so much it’s nearly nauseating, but in a way it adds to the charm of the film because it never seems to take itself too seriously.
However, if you like great cinematography this film is definitely for you. The aforementioned conversation between the daughter and father alone is nearly worth the price of admission with the supernaturally saturated background and the shots through the glass. The camera work is always appropriate for the tone at current, as is the lighting.
Ultimately, the greatest treat was in being able to view a previously unseen film in the States on the big screen where it belongs. Any film disappearing from public knowledge or not being known is a sad thing and kudos to Janus for finding a genuine original and putting it on display for the world to see.
House which was originally released in Japan in 1977 slowly made the theatrical rounds here in the U.S. and is available from Criterion on home video.