My first video of my hopeful return to a more regular production schedule, I take a look at the Japanese cult classic Hausu and how it manages to create a unique atmosphere by calling upon the style of the earliest days of cinema.
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Of all films, I think the one I’ve watched most is this semi-obscure horror comedy named Hausu, a Japanese production from the late 1970s.
Part of the appeal is how inexplicable it feels – it seems to go against everything I know about cinema. Eraserhead pushed the envelope, but Hausu tossed everything aside. It’s simplistic and gaudy, yet there’s this base appeal. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures – there had to be something that mad it work, even if I lacked the words.
I had rented it from Netflix just a month before heading off to college and was mesmerized – one of the first things I did after getting to college was meet up with a couple friends I made over the summer through Facebook, and we watched Hausu in the basement of Allen Hall.
It’s the perfect midnight movie – so colorful and bonkers to appeal to the so-bad-its-good aesthetic, but carrying enough technical weight to actually impress those paying close enough attention. What is it saying? Does it mean anything? It seems indecipherable, a work of pure viscera – but nothing great is that simple. A subtle meaning reveals itself with repeated viewings, much like Mulholland Drive – beneath its excess is commentary on the expectations of young women in Japanese society.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the film people most associate me with – it became a habit to show any new friend this film eventually. I’m infected and this is my virus – something this unique yet so under-watched needed to be spread.
We got in a fight about this movie several months back – you know I hold myself up as some sort of critic, and me saying it was a movie that defied explanation wasn’t enough. You were right – it was an empty answer. I wanted a film I could just enjoy without thinking – but there had to be something. No other film got that pass, so why this one?
The next night, I sat down and wrote everything I loved about the film. The connections became clear; the spectacle of Georges Melies, the conceptual treatment of concepts as found in early Soviet cinema, all mixed with contemporary psychedelia, feminism, and the baffling nature of Japanese advertising – Hausu speaks in several familiar languages, but it’s hard to make the jump from A Trip to the Moon to the late 70s without anything in-between. It’s as if director Obayashi imagined a world where we stuck to Melies’ fantastical sets and conspicuous editing tricks, where we decided to eschew realism entirely. It’s odd among films of the 1970s, but Hausu makes a surprising amount of sense in the context of early cinema.
In the end, while every film has its own method of communication, they are still limited by the overarching language of cinema. Every film, no matter how esoteric, has another film, another movement it can be connected to. No art exists in a vacuum – but a film like Hausu, one that takes so much effort to figure out how it fits, something that can trick us into believing someone made something wholly original over 70 years into the medium? They’re treasures that deserve to be cherished.