That's right, the New York Asian Film Fest is going on right now. If you're into the kind of things I cover on this blog, there is probably something here that you're going to like. Before we get started, I'll direct you very quickly to my coverage of the stuff I saw at last year's fest: Ryu ga Gotoku, Retro Game Master, Dororo, The Bodyguard, and Oneechanbara. Should give you an idea of the kind of thing I go to the fest to see.
Anyway, my first movie of the fest this year was the life-changing House (or as a deep, menacing voice intones at the title card, HAUUUSUUUU). I'd seen clips on the Internet, but taken out of context, you still don't really know what you're getting out of this movie other than a full-on sensory assault. You can find those same clips on Youtube if you search "Hausu", but I really recommend you go into this blind, and I'm going to tell you as little as I possibly can of what happens in this movie.
House is an idol vehicle and a slasher movie, and it's directed by the man who made this amazing commercial featuring Charles Bronson hawking cologne. We got a little primer on director Nobuhiko Obayashi before the film began, with a talk from Machine Girl director Noboru Iguchi and Tokyo Gore Police director Yoshihiro Nishimura. These guys gushed enthusiasm for the film and gave us a little trivia, some of which, perhaps, Mr. Obayashi would not have liked us to hear. After the intro, we got a short video from Obayashi and his daughter, who gave her dad the story of House back when she was seven years old. And yes, this explains a lot about the film. After that, another gift from Obayashi: eight minutes worth of commercial work, including my favorite Mandom commercials. These commercials serve as a visual preview for House, where you see the same kind of cheesy effects and non-sequiturs out in full force.
But even then, you are not prepared for House. Like Iguchi and Nishimura told us before the show, nothing really happens in the entire first half of the movie, and that doesn't really matter because Obayashi's totally off-the-wall direction supplies the entertainment by itself. Want commercial-length glamor shots? Absolutely! You want abrupt tonal shifts? House has got them! You want the movie to just stop in the middle and comment on itself? Got that, too! Music by Godiego (yes, Godiego, it starts at 1:33)? YES. There isn't a frame of this movie where some bizarre visual effect or unorthodox method of storytelling isn't in use. The plot is total nonsense, things just happen for the sake of it, and Obayashi has the wonderful habit of inserting gags at completely inappropriate times: for example, cutting to a man eating ramen at a stand staffed by a bear in the middle of a scene where two of our schoolgirls are sailing on a sea of cat blood.
A pack of schoolgirls, each named for their sole characteristic-- their names are Gorgeous, Fantasy, Melody, Kung Fu, Sweet, Prof (the nerd), and Mac (the fat one)-- decide to stay at Gorgeous' aunt's house for their summer vacation, which is obviously a terrible idea from the moment they set foot on the property. In the second half of the film, they're picked off one by one by said aunt-- who's a vengeful spirit, of course-- in ways that coincide with their silly, silly names. This is where Obayashi's goofy surrealism really goes into macabre overdrive, and I'm not going to spoil a second of it.
This all sounds pretty cut and dry, but when you're actually watching this movie, you'll understand from the very first moments. Unfortunately, you can't buy the movie on DVD, but you can find it floating around online if you look really hard. If you're in NYC, I highly recommend you go to Thursday's midnight screening: the first one sold out and the second one probably will just on word-of-mouth. Hell, I'm even considering seeing it again. Watch this movie any damn way you can. You will not regret it.