Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Oct 24, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi

    Studio: Criterion
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 88 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 Japanese
    Subtitles: English

    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.95

    Release Date: October 26, 2010

    Review Date: October 24, 2010 

    The Film


    It must be terribly difficult for a young director who’s been making hundreds of television commercials and is finally given a chance to direct a feature film for a major studio not to let himself get carried away with the technology at his disposal. Watching Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, one gets the feeling of a kid in a candy store with its plethora of styles and constant shifts in tone. It’s an arresting and highly original take on a ghost story using a kind of pop-art approach which may or may not resonate with viewers. It was wildly popular in its day, but now it’s only admirable in its stylistic methodology; the story loses its charm and originality about halfway through, and if the intention was terror, it’s a miserable failure because it isn’t particularly scary or even creepy. It’s an exercise is stylistic invention, and that’s all.

    Disgusted when her widowed father (Saho Sasazawa) informs her he’s taking his fiancé (Haruko Wanibuchi) with them on their summer vacation, Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) refuses to go and instead gathers up six of her friends to spend their summer vacation at her aunt’s (Yoko Minamida) large estate in the country. The girls are all impressed with its lavishness once they arrive, but one by one, the girls begin disappearing while individual others witness gruesome momentary images that have them rubbing their eyes in disbelief. After Auntie herself disappears (one girl sees her entering the refrigerator), the girls begin to figure out that the house is haunted and is killing them one by one. Their only chance for survival is for Fantasy’s (Kumiko Oba)’s boy friend Mr. Togo (Kiyohiko Ozaki) to finally get there and rescue them, but he’s stuck in terrible Tokyo traffic and is late to the party.

    Nobuhiko Obayashi’s images are the whole show in this film, and while not all of them work, there are certainly some simple but dazzling special effects (individual detached fingers playing a piano, the dance of the blazing logs) on display. (Some of the other effects work, however, is terrible, maybe deliberately so. It’s hard to tell what the director’s aim was with the dancing skeletons unless it was to amuse.) Obayashi has also employed just about every stylistic trick he can think of to give the film an arthouse sheen: stop motion, jump cuts, line animation, and matte effects are all engaged to give the film some visual interest since the story (suggested by his then ten-year old daughter; screenplay by Chiho Katsura) is so simple-minded. The director has also laid onto the movie an atypical soundtrack resembling something one might hear accompanying Saturday morning animated shows from the era. Godiego does provide some songs for the soundtrack that comment a bit on the action we’re seeing, and there’s a haunting tune played by Melody (Eriko Tanaka) that reverberates throughout the movie and lends it some class.

    The seven girls playing the leading roles were, for the most part, not trained actresses, but they do what’s required of them to do with a minimal amount of self-consciousness. Kimiko Ikegami certainly measures up to her character’s name Gorgeous as the actress matures from a schoolgirl to a ghostly woman of imposing majesty with pretty astounding aplomb. Veteran Yoko Minamida who plays the mysterious aunt certainly knows her way around a soundstage and offers an entertaining take on the enigmatic character she's portraying.

    Video Quality


    The film is framed at 1.33:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The director has chosen several looks for the film; much of the movie is presented in soft-focused pastels while some later scenes are sharper and with more solid color saturation. Flesh tones seem a trifle chalky, but that is likely due to the filters being used for the photography. The image is certainly clean lacking any age-related artifacts like scratches or dirt. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 26 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix sounds very typical for its era: limited fidelity with little in the way of a bottom end and a little distortion when volume increases. Thankfully, there is no age-related hiss or other aural artifacts like pops, crackle, or flutter to spoil the audio experience.

    Special Features


    Emotion is a 1966 experimental film by director Nobuhiko Obayashi in which many of the stylistic touches utilized in House were played around with here including stop motion photography, jump cuts, tinting the screen (green is the predominant color), and a focus on young girls involved with what could be something supernatural. It runs 39 ¼ minutes in 1080i.

    “Constructing a House is a 46-minute interview with director Nobuhiko Obayashi, daughter Chiguni Obayashi, and screenwriter Chiho Katsura who discuss the director’s early career, his idea for the film, and the difficulties he had in getting it made, a two year journey in which he practically blackmailed the Toho studio into making it. It’s in 1080p.

    Filmmaker Ti West offers an appreciation of House with its wildly original take on a horror tale noting the innovations the director used in making his vision a reality. The 1080p vignette runs 3 ¾ minutes.

    The film’s theatrical trailer runs 1 ½ minutes in 1080p.

    The enclosed 27-page booklet contains complete cast and crew lists, a chapter listing, quite a few color stills from the movie, and a combination biographical essay and film appreciation by educator Chuck Stephens.

    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    In Conclusion

    3.5/5 (not an average)

    Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is one of the more unusual foreign cult movies you’re likely to see this year. The film’s unique mix of daffiness and stylish technique may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s certainly an interesting experiment and one that’s worth a serious look.

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

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