Saturday, July 26, 2014

House (The Criterion Collection)

HouseCriterion is a great company -arguably, the best DVD releasing company in the world. They are known for standards of excellence that aren't traditionally seen in most other companies' releases; not only in their DVD transfers and special features, but for the consistent high quality of the films they release. Most of the films Criterion release are already well-established, traditional, "classic" films. So, it's always nice to see a somewhat more "obscure" film get the Criterion treatment -this film definitely deserves it.

While not completely "obscure" -it's quite well-known in Japan, as well as amongst underground horror and experimental film lovers around the world -it certainly doesn't seem as, dare I say, "important" as many other Criterion releases. But being the underdog works here, since the film only costs $26 brand new (well below most "big" Criterion film's releases) so it will hopefully motivate more people to check out this work of art.

...YES, a work of art. While touted as a "horror" film, this most resembles an art film, one of the more experimental variety, and it is masterfully-shot and -directed. Utilizing all sorts of outrageous effects and downright bizarre editing, this often brings to mind directors like Shuji Terayama (Emperor Tomato Ketchup) and Toshio Matsumoto (Funeral Procession of Roses). While there are some more straightforward "horror" elements -skeletons, an evil kitty -most of them are downright silly, and remind me somewhat of American "classic" b-movie cheesefest Spookies than any serious work of horror. It is NEVER scary, and gets by mainly on absurdity and cheese.

So, why is this film getting 5 stars? Why is it "worthy" of a Criterion release? Well, opinions will differ, but I found this movie absolutely brilliant, one of the most entertaining I have EVER seen, with brilliant scene after brilliant scene of surreal absurdity. This film is downright INSANE, but it's charming. It's one of those films that you'll watch and say, "Okay, I HAVE TO show this to every single one of my friends now!" Infinitely rewatchable (I've probably watched my Japanese copy 20 times in the past 5 years), hilariously madcap, and endlessly inspiring. There is violence here, but it's all so silly... this is about as much a "horror" film as Riki-Oh is a "kung-fu" movie; it has all the "cool" elements of a genre film, but it's really just an excuse to cram as many insane scenes into a film as possible.

Oh, did I mention a piano eats a girl? ... The effects are what really make this film a sight to behold. They're actually surprisingly well-done, and even though I already own this film, I'm going to buy the Criterion edition just to see how they pulled off some of this stuff! Yes, as usual, the Criterion DVD is loaded with great special features, the best of which has to be the 1966 short film "Emotion" -without a doubt one of the greatest short films ever, and definitely my favorite of the "experimental Japanese New Wave" school (along with the aforementioned Matsumoto and Terayama). Honestly, "Emotion" is even better than the main feature -how insane is that? This is just one unbelievably value packed release, one that everyone needs!

So, yes, it is a very unlikely Criterion release, but kudos to them for taking a chance with this one. It is a film that needs to be seen -I can't imagine anyone NOT having a good time with it. And I really hope it sells well, because there just flat-out aren't many DVD companies releasing these kinds of crazy Japanese films anymore, since Tartan folded. Maybe, just maybe, if we're lucky, we'll all be able to see a Pastoral: To Die in the Country (aka "the greatest film ever made") release from Criterion sometime in our lifetimes....? Well, I can dream. But until that day comes, I'll be watching this one about once a month. Order it today!

Every once in a while you read about a film that it's indescribable and like nothing you've ever seen before. Usually that's hyperbole; it's just a bit offbeat. Not in this case. House (made in 1977) is genuinely like no other film I'd ever seen before, and I loved every minute. The closest in vibe to this film that I've seen is Funky Forest: The First Contact but that one's all over the place, and lacks the continuity of a single strange story like House. It's surreal horror, a hallucinatory and often hilarious supernatural thriller about Japanese schoolgirls who spend their school vacation visiting the aging aunt of their classmate. This is the kind of film you want to see in theaters if you have a chance but barring that see it at home, after it's out on dvd, with an open-minded crowd of friends who dig foreign, cult or arthouse films.

Gorgeous, as she's known, is irate that her father has decided to remarry, and so she invites her friends to stay in the aging and empty country house of her aunt rather than go with her father and his fiancee on vacation. We are introduced to each of her friends, all of whom have nicknames that describe their temperament and character: there is the beautiful Gorgeous, there's the apparently dreamy and gullible Fantasy, the brainy Professor, the always hungry Mac, the musical Melody, and so on. Along the way, on a magical train ride in which the animated fantasy background that shines through the windows of the train seems to resemble a film strip, she tells them how her aunt had once loved a man who promised to come for her after the war, but never returned. When they arrive, their aunt seems a bit too eager to see them, and odd remarks lead to inexplicable occurrences, and pretty soon it's over-the-top scary silly supernatural surreal mayhem. The director seems to delight in retro-styled effects and sight gags, using stop motion and many other inventive techniques to create a fantastic realm of visual jokes and horror. Combining live action and animation, the film transcends kitch and schlockiness into a realm of cinematic magic, that draws upon Japanese magical traditions of Yokai and witches and vengeful ghosts, but also evokes the era in which it was made, and appears to be making fun of a certain kind of depiction of youth in cinema. Fun stuff, and exciting to see that Criterion is releasing it (not surprising given that Janus films is supervising the current critically acclaimed theatrical rerelease).

Here's what to expect on the 1-disc Criterion set:

-a new, restored high-definition digital transfer (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)

-a video piece featuring interviews with director Nobuhiko Obayashi, story scenarist and daughter of the director Chigumi Obayashi, and screenwriter Chiho Katsura

-Emotion, a 1966 experimental film by Obayashi

-a new video appreciation by director Ti West (House of the Devil)

-the theatrical trailer

-new and improved English subtitle translation

-and an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens

Buy House (The Criterion Collection) Now

The people who are giving this movie bad reviews need to loosen up. This movie is great. The most amazing 70's visual effects I have seen besides Star Wars... If you are in to the "vintage 70's film look", Michel Gondry, Japanese pop art, 70's horror movies, Phsycedelic art, ect.., you will love this! And NO you do not have to be high to love this, you just have to have good taste.

Read Best Reviews of House (The Criterion Collection) Here

Video review by future world famous serial killer Christopher Mackshere.

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House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

When a movie has me asking "what the hell is THIS?" less than five minutes after I start watching it, I would have to call that movie, on at least some level, a success. In the case of House, the infamous 1977 horror comedy from Nobuhiko Obayashi (who's still making movies well into his seventies, including the recent The Last Snow and Song of Goodbye), it only gets weirder from there. I'm not entirely sure I can call the movie a success as a movie, but it's certainly something.

Plot: Angel (Kimiko Ikegami, currently the star of the long-running TV-movie series Furin Chosain Katayama Yumi) is excited about summer break; she's going to get to spend a lot of time with her father, which she can't do during the school year. They're even planning a trip. But dad springs a surprise on her just before break begins: he's getting married to Ryoko (Haruko Wanibuchi, recently of One Missed Call 2), an ethereally beautiful jewelry designer. It's been years since Angel's mom died, but she still takes the news badly enough that she writes to an aunt (the late Yoko Minamida, who would once again team up with Obayashi for one of her final films, 2004's The Reason) she hasn't seen in a decade and asks if she can spend the summer there instead. The letter she receives back states Auntie would be delighted, and asks Angel to bring all her friends. So, under the sponsorship of one of their teachers (After the Rain's Fumi Dan), Angel and six of her closest friends plan a trip to the countryside. A freak accident with a bucket sidelines the teacher, however, and the girls are on their own in Auntie's house... where they begin disappearing one by one.

It's obvious a great deal of thought went into the girls' nicknames (Melody is a pianist, Kunfuu is a martial artist, Prof is the brain of the bunch, etc.), which kind of makes the question of whether Angel will survive a moot one, even though she's the obvious final girl. But as I intimated in the opening paragraph, House is not a movie that you watch if you're actually looking to watch a movie--you know, a piece of film with plot, characterization, that sort of thing. It's the same kind of weird "how many drugs did these people ingest?" experience you get from, say, Spider Baby or Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. And for what it is, House is a stunning example of the genre; you're likely to sit there with your jaw on the floor the entire movie. One wag, reviewing the movie at IMDB, says "I kinda want to watch it on drugs, but I value my life too much." Indeed. Still, it's the kind of thing you should definitely see once, simply because it puts such American attempts at psychedelic horror (think Death Bed or the movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis here) into perspective. ***

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