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"Hausu" in One Shot

Nobuhiko Ōbayashi's 1977 cult classic encapsulated in a single shot.
Jennifer Lynde Barker
One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie. Hausu (1977) is showing July 22 – August 20, 2020 on MUBI in the United Kingdom.
Hausu
By turns surreal, kitschy, psychedelic, traditional, sentimental, and zany, Hausu keeps us spinning round and round as we sink deeper and deeper under its spell. A ghost cat vomiting blood? Check. A decapitated head biting friends on the ass? Yep. A piano with an appetite for human flesh? You bet! A hippy schoolteacher who turns into a bunch of bananas? Obviously. But these examples don’t even begin to convey the truly delirious nature of the film, which Nobuhiko Ōbayashi layers with playful special effects, animation, meta-commentary, and antiwar sagacity. Filled with genre conventions yet utterly original, the film’s 1970s psychedelia tempers the gruesome actions with comedy. As its name implies, Hausu is a horror film about location, and takes place in the mythical Japanese hometown where tradition and family are enshrined, but its engagement with the past is critical rather than nostalgic. In the hypnotic clash between evil and innocence, Hausu follows the adventures of a group of girls on vacation: Gorgeous, Sweet, Melody, Kung Fu, Prof, Fantasy, Mac—each is named for a quality that dictates the form of their demise. They stay at the home of Gorgeous’ aunt, who has all the markings of Dickens’ Miss Havisham. But the villain in this scenario is WWII, not the man she has spent her life waiting for, and despite its effervescent silliness, Hausu is a poignant commentary on how the war continues to devour lives. In the tradition of stories like Shindō’s Kuroneko (1968), the aunt’s vengeance manifests as a kaibyō, a ghost cat, who lurks in the background, manipulating human fate. As can be seen in this frame from the film’s climax, the kaibyō controls the action, gobbling the girls with vertiginous fear. Even Kung Fu, who ably battles it, cannot release herself from the past and its violence. Ōbayashi made movies for 60 years, playing with the possibilities of representation with wit and ingenuity. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016 he went on to make two exuberant antiwar films—Hanagatami (2017) and Labyrinth of Cinema (2019)—before sadly passing away a few months ago. Ōbayashi was a singular force of nature, which Hausu joyfully displays.

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