Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hausu - Review

The following piece was written by Glasgow based song-writer, musician and Twitter force of nature Aidan Moffat for a special screening of Hausu staged at the Glasgow Film Theatre in early 2013.  He very kindly offered it up to the dark forces that guide the Afraid of the Dark Horror Blog to be misused in any way they saw fit.  If any of you enjoy great music and don't mind if it leans drunkenly in the direction of dark and confessional I highly recommend you explore the bleak (and often amusing) musings of Mr. Moffat.  At certain times in my life his work as one half of the mighty Arab Strap helped me deal with shit when shit went wrong.  2011's 'Everything's Getting Older' was a collaboration with Bill Wells and won the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year award. It's a work of dark, touching and ultimately uplifting beauty.  Buy it.  Love it. Cheers for letting us use this Aidan.

There’s so much going on in Hausu that it truly evades description. Ostensibly a Japanese children’s horror film with seven schoolgirls in a scary house, it’s a fevered day-glo gorefest; a hyperactive kung-fu monster musical with a touch of slapstick and an eerie, eccentric soundtrack. It’s exhausting to watch – and you might find your head shaking incredulously as just about every conceivable cinematic technique is hurled at your senses – but I can guarantee you’ll have a good time.

It’s the story of Angel, who still mourns her mother after eight lonely years, and doesn’t really fancy that planned holiday with Dad once he insensitively introduces their surprise guest, her brand new stepmother. So she writes to an aunt she hasn’t seen for years and, along with six of her classmates – all handily named in accordance with their character’s traits, e.g. Melody the musician, Prof the swot, and so on – is invited to stay in a huge, idyllic countryside manor for a super summer vacation. But guess what? Within minutes, one by one, the guests begin to mysteriously disappear . . .

Hausu was written by an eleven-year-old girl at the request of her father, an ad director who’d been asked by Toho studios to make a film “as exciting as Jaws”. And while this hysterical 1977 debut isn’t exactly a groundbreaking tale, it’s told with such frenetic flair and enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to be transfixed by the movie and its apparent lunacy. But the method in the Obayashi family’s madness soon becomes evident; there’s a clear and pure logic to every tone and technique on display. The school scenes look and sound like a kids’ TV show, the spooky scenes reference older Japanese horrors, and a sepia World War II flashback movingly morphs the Hiroshima bombing into a subtle camera flash. There are animated sequences, brief dance numbers, and plenty of near-subliminal cuts to shock you just when you think you’re getting comfortable. If it all sounds a bit messy, that’s precisely why it works – you learn very early on that nothing is impossible or predictable in the titular house, and the result is unexpectedly affecting. By apparently attacking every emotion from every possible angle, it leaves you wide open to the Obayashis’ will; you simply have to surrender and succumb to its chaos, after which you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully upbeat finish followed by a gorgeous closing credits coda. Other highlights include the relentless, multi-genre soundtrack led by the compulsory sinister theme, beautifully painted studio sunsets, a creepy doll and a spooky white cat, a floating severed head, and a chirpy minstrel magically transformed into a bunch of bananas.

Like most Western fans of the movie, I discovered Hausu via the medium of badly translated bootleg many years ago, but a recent DVD release by the faultless Eureka label has finally put an end to fuzzy VHS rips with baffling subtitles. Being a Eureka release, there’s great bonus material too, including recent interviews with the Obayashi father and daughter team and the original Japanese trailer, which proclaims that Hausu is ‘So beautiful it’s scary!’ It absolutely is, and I urge anyone with even the mildest interest in film, fear and fun to treat yourself to it immediately. 

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