The GR interview with House director Nobuhiko Obayashi
I first found out about
House through my film freak friend
Aaron, who sent me links to the Japanese horror movie on YouTube. The movie isn't scary at all but is a real mind blower with eye-popping cinematography, irony-free music scenes, lo-fi graphics, and psychedelic freak-outs featuring young women being eaten by pianos and lamps. Wild! So when I found out that Criterion was releasing the movie, I got a contact through their PR company which began a months-long process of emailing query after query to the director's office in Japan. Finally, my translator
Nao and I got through to Nobu Obayashi, and his long, entertaining answers were well worth the effort. You can read the entire interview in Giant Robot 68 (on stands now) but here's an excerpt...
GR: Considering how much
is loved now, do you feel like the movie was ahead of its time?
NO: When we were young, we believed our art would be understood 100 years after we died. So I knew that
would be gradually accepted, but 33 years is too early! When this movie first hit screens, young people were so excited, and many artists and creative people saw it. But mainstream audiences ignored it. I expected that. However, older people who knew old movies loved it! Actually, I think
changed the Japanese movie scene. I thought it was a classic A-movie, but the way I did it was very avant-garde.
GR: What exactly was your daughter’s role in the movie?
NO: I had only directed independent movies (which had already been shown in Hollywood and San Francisco as Japanese underground films with the catch phrase, “Much better than Doris Day!”) and I was not interested in making commercial movies. But after making successful TV commercials for Toho, the most famous studio in Japan, one of its producers asked me to write a screenplay.
At the time, only Toho's directors could make movies for the studio, but I asked my 11-year-old daughter Chigumi, who never watched Japanese movies, what kind of movie she would like me to make. She was combing her long hair after bathing, and said, "It would be fun if this mirror ate me.” So I made up the story about seven girls who get eaten by a house using her imagination and my experience from the war. Toho liked the scrīpt, but no directors wanted to make it. Nothing happened for two years, so besides filming TV commercials I began making comics, writing novels, pressing records, putting on fashion shows, and creating a radio drama of
. The program became popular with young kids, so Toho had to work on it, made me the producer, and decided for one time only, they would let me, a director from outside of the studio, make the movie. And I was like, “Okay, I will make a TV commercial for Japanese movies!” That was
My daughter was a big fan of western movies, and her ideas were attractive to other young people who didn’t watch Japanese ones.After
became a smash hit, I couldn’t stop making commercial movies. Other studios started hiring amateur directors who had been making movies with 8mm cameras, as well. Actually, I think the thoughts of my 11-year-old girl, who watched 400 movies every year, helped bring scandal and reform to Japanese cinema.
GR: The movie feels very spontaneous to me. Was a lot of it developed on the spot or did it come out exactly how you envisioned it?
NO: I thought current movies were too realistic, and tried to revive the style and the fun of classic movies which were more like lies than reality. And as we played around on the set, we destroyed the ways of commercial moviemaking. The people at Toho must have noticed how much fun we were having, laughing and innovating. My style is to set up a fake scene and shoot it like a documentary. When I film, it's like playing jazz, incorporating a well-thought scrīpt and improvising on the spot.
GR: Tell me about the special effects. In many sci-fi and horror movies, effects can seem really cold and inhuman, but the ones in
felt handmade and organic. Did you handle them yourself?
NO: Toho was very good at special effects in movies like
I handled all of them. It was mainly optical effects, and it was my first try at video composition. I approached it like my personal work, so warmth was the point. My concept was to express the stage of progression in video composition, and I didn't expect perfect results. The progress was heated, but the results were cold, and I strived for reality rather than realism. It is more fun when a magician fails.
GR: Do you have favorite scenes?
NO: I love all the scenes! When I made the film, I was praising it myself!
Check out Giant Robot 68 at your local newsstand, comic book store, or
here and the
House DVD at your favorite indie shop or
here. You won't regret either purchase...