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“It’s unscientific, unexplainable, unnatural, unreasonable,” exclaims Prof (short for Professor) as she frantically flips an old softbound diary, the words Lonely Days peeking out from its cat cover – the haunted house she and the other six girls have decamped at meanwhile consuming its inhabitants with a gruesome felicity.
The diary belongs to the vengeful ghost at the heart of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu, an experimental horror parody of a shojo schoolgirl flick. Starring Kimiko Ikegami as the clueless Gorgeous, whose fuzzy cat Blanche sets off a spiraling series of catastrophes, the film follows the misadventures of her coterie of adorable schoolgirl friends, who uniformly meet their doom when they visit her aunt’s house on a whim.
Beginning with the casual decapitation of Mac, the token “fat” kid of the gang, Hausu warns us of the untold dangers of spooky countryside homes that happen to also be the lair of demon cats. A prevalence of tongue-in-cheek humor and over-the-top special FX fuel its wholesomely horrific storyline about wartime tragedy and lost love, a just-enough undertone of seriousness serving as foundation for the farcical narrative. Stray juicy watermelons, dancing anatomical skeleton models, and stripped dolls found next to missing panties are the culprits of the hour, the script partially based in Obayashi’s twelve-year-old daughter Chigumi’s fears of a hungry mirror.
Given its source of inspiration, the film’s girls, untrained actresses all of them, are its crowning glory. Gorgeous puts on makeup she finds at her aunt’s vanity table, and the languid pose she adopts as the camera pans across her lips, perfect airbrushed skin, and convenient beauty spot resembles a makeup ad of the finest hour. “You’re a stylish princess,” her companions tease her when she requires more water to wash her flowing long hair, and she sighs with a trademark satisfied smile at her luscious locks.
Poor gaslighted Fantasy, the most sensitive of the lot, pines for their distracted teacher, her knight in shining armor, whom she expects to come running to save the day when things go south. Kung Fu, named for her athleticism, announces with temerity, “I like the countryside,” as her earnest face is backlit by a dim glow of red lights, synths playing ominously – all this shortly before her limber legs in their short-shorts are called in for backup.
Chock-full of cutesy quips and one-liners, Hausu is rife with moments of play and ironic gesture, verging onto kawaii overload. “Oh my, that’s naughty” is remarked at Melody getting squished inside a piano that she sits down at and has the great idea to start playing, reading a decrepit piece of haunting sheet music that becomes the film’s carrying motif. Her dismembered fingers play the C. Bechstein with a slow, mournful ease, while another’s innards spurt down the bloodied inside of the grandfather clock chiming the hour.
The theme of haunted hotels, mansions, houses, and space – a cinema of madness, of crazed sets and settings – is revisited as, at the film’s climax, blood floods the interior of the house like an inverted lake, one the precocious girls decide to take a naked dip in. Slowed down frames per second as they run down a staircase recall chase scenes from Hong Kong hotels, and the demon cat’s unnerving presence is omnipresent and unavoidable.
Creepy cat symbolism on the piano, on the wall panel, on the vanity decor, on the periphery of the scenes of closeness and warmth warn us that “such things happen in this world” – the uncanny world of Hausu, in which young schoolgirls are cat chow and the long-haired, big-eyed Blanche is just about as guilty as can be.