“Shot Through the Heart” is a weekly segment in which I rant about a story that means the world to me. Each week we’ll go over a film, book, short story, or game that touched me in ways that are hard to put into words without them just turning into word vomit. This week I’m going to talk about one of my favorite films and I’m so sorry about how weird it is (not really) – 1977’s Hausu!
Okay, so just stick with me on this one. It’s going to seem weird for a bit but around the time the cat starts meowing and the score while it plays it on the piano you’ll understand what you’re watching. It’s live-action Scooby-Doo with Japanese schoolgirls. Why that’s great doesn’t matter, only that it is.
So way back in the 70’s there was a Japanese director that allowed his daughter to create a concept. This sounds like a bad idea, I know, but stick with me. I had a lot of false starts with this film and you’re definitely going to, but stick with it.
There was a time, back in the long-long-ago, when a lot of films in the Criterion Collection were on Hulu. I was able to pursue to my heart’s content back then, picking artistic cinema with wanton abandon and delving into multiple cultures at my own whimsy. Reddit kept telling me that I needed to watch something called Hausu, a 1977 film out of Japan that was considered to be one of the most batshit insane things anyone had ever seen. No one would tell me what it was about and in fact one user told me I couldn’t understand what it was until I saw it. I laughed at this because…I mean…I’ve seen some Japanese cinema. I had a pretty solid knowledge of Kurosawa at that point, a working understanding of Ozu, and I was tertiarily aware of Miyazaki. My ego assured me that I could handle the weirdness of this film. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
Let me see if I can put this into words. Hausu is a Japanese film about some schoolgirls that go on vacation, a few of which have a crush on the teacher that is supposed to be supervising the trip but is instead bananas. They stay at the home of one girl’s aunt, accompanied by a cat with wildly awesome musical talent, and the scary shit starts to happen with humor everywhere. In some places it makes no sense and feels like it was written by a child. Guess what…it was! The director, Nobuhiko Obayashi let his daughter pitch the concept and created a script out of it to wild results. This is a monstrosity of a film that wound up being a cult hit with American audiences and something that ingrained itself into the culture of arthouse cinema with aggressive abandon. I showed it to so many people, you have no idea. There are people mad at me because of this odd thing. It’s a film that resembles a pint of expired milk. You take a whiff and you have to call someone else to smell it because it has to be shared. It isn’t vile like expired milk, but the desire to show other people is a strong one.
I can’t say there’s a deft hand at work here because there’s not. The film is entrenched in post-WWII fear but it also has a lot of fun laughing at itself, so the piss is taken out of it. A head floats out of a well and bites a girl on the butt, a girl that is teased for being “chubby” (she’s not exactly chubby). Later the girl teasing her is eaten by a grand piano.
I have a hard time describing this one. Even more difficulty is found in trying to sell it to other people, but I’ll do my best. When I turned 29 my friend Chris bought me this film as a representation of our friendship, a testament to the fact that we got through it together. I watched this film, went to see him in Nebraska and showed it to him, and then the next day went home because we decided I needed to show it to someone else. It’s a batshit insane feast for the eyes because of the oddness of it. Cats, wells, fruit, everything here is for laughs and it turns out that this is one of the best horror movies of all time if you’re looking for chuckles.
I won’t mince words, Hausu is one of the best films to watch on a bad day. This one makes no sense and it drives some to madness. There’s a wonder to it that comes from the eyes of a child, and as a man-baby I can enjoy it. Want something to watch when you’ve had a crap day? I watched this the day my uncle committed suicide, desperate for something comforting in the midst of a storm. I felt like I was wrapped in a blanket and being held by a dear friend the whole time. The fact that a partner-in-crime gave it to me is important here because this is the kind of film that people watch on the recommendation. There’s a chain here, going back to the 70’s when someone saw it of their own accord and told their friend “you’ve got to sniff this shit.” This is that kind of thing, a phenomenon that is hard to grasp and hilarious to behold. You’ll love it and I urge you to dive in with no more knowledge than what I’ve given you. Seriously just…wow.