SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Vampires in the Hausu
“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth."
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
Dante and Virgil (1859) William Bouguereau
Sometimes it’s best to treat a problem like the sun; don’t stare at it directly, think about it peripherally. You can’t see the sun as well if you look straight at it. We see it more clearly when we wipe away our sweat or see its light glare off a surface. We solve our problems indirectly all the time; the pull of art is even stronger when the world becomes heavier.
Humans have been wrestling with their troubles in fiction since it’s existed. It could be argued that this is why it came to exist at all; the oldest myths are perhaps our oldest problems. A mythological being like a vampire is the vehicle for our existential anxieties; it’s the monster-baby born of our equal discomfort with the dead and with the living who refuse to accept the fact of death.
The pale, TV-sexy vampires we know now are descended from European folklore of the 19th century. Fear of the blood-drinking, living-dead has been around for a long, long time though. Ancient Mesopotamia long. Lilith, Adam’s notorious ex who he probably gives Eve the “Don’t worry, she was crazy” line about, has a lot of vampire-esque qualities — drinking blood, staying up all night, hating babies (it’s no wonder she’s become a modern-day feminist mascot).
The Vampire's Kiss, Max Ernst, 1934
Our modern vampires have interesting ticks that older vampiric baddies lacked. They hate garlic, lack shadows and reflections, and can’t tolerate sunlight. Not all vampires adhere to these tropes, but they all have interesting origins that are sometimes shared with other scary supernaturals, like being unable to enter a home without being invited.
Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931)
This particular bit of folklore gets pretty complex; vampires can only enter a human’s home if invited, but this only applies to the concept of home — the place you sleep, eat, and restore yourself — not a public place, apartment lobby, or even a house if it’s owner-less. Some myths say a vampire can only be invited by the rightful owner of a home, others say a house guest or worker can invite a vampire without the owner’s knowledge at all. Vampires that enter a home without an invitation are essentially passing through a threshold that debilitates them of any strength they’d need to harm the dweller.
The idea of home as a sacred space that inherently protects its residents from danger is also just as old as vampiric anxiety. In Exodus, god tells the Israelites to brush their doors with lamb’s blood; this is the origin of Passover, by which the curse that god sends to kill firstborns passes over those homes. It’s another metaphor that depicts a barrier between suffering and safety, death and life. The folklore of vampires is just an extension of a problem humans have long dealt with.
In a world full of risk, what suffering do we freely invite into our lives?
You’ve probably never seen a surrealist horror movie; I hadn’t either until I decided to watch ハウス (Hausu). Imagine your childhood fears made into a horror movie with cartoon-ish effects, directed with a childlike perspective, and topped off with quintessential Japanese weirdness. That’s Hausu.
Critics didn’t embrace the movie when it first debuted in 1977, a quality that should only intrigue you more. Nobuhiko Obayashi consulted his 11-year-old daughter when writing the film; some of the famous scenes are literally straight from a child’s mind. She had a fear that her fingers would get stuck between the piano keys and she imagined the concept of the devouring house.
It’s a horror movie through a child’s eyes but below the surrealist madness is a truly horrific foundation that’s not immediately obvious — the death of innocence. There are scenes that point towards the loss of a child’s innocence that comes with puberty and the loss of humanity’s innocence that comes with war, specifically WWII. Obayashi lost friends to the bombing and was raised in Hiroshima.
There’s a tension in the film between the aunt and the girls; the aunt suffered the loss and subsequent lasting trauma of the generation who experienced WWII. The girls are the first generation with no memory of the war, bringing into question yet another opportunity for the loss of innocence. Should the generation without this burden have that innocence preserved or not? The film shows there may be no choice but to live in this darkened, post-war world.
Obayashi died this past week at 82, leaving behind what every good artist aspires to — a completely inimitable and justifiably weird legacy. He layered Hausu so thick with symbolism and metaphor that you can easily watch it again and again, picking up new meaning each time. Any movie that gets labeled a “manic art film” and “cinematic anarchy” warrants at least one viewing. Plus, the subtle, psychotic atmosphere the soundtrack creates is just another testament to Obayashi’s ability to throw one hundred ingredients into a soup and create the kind of unforgettable taste that’s so unique you can’t immediately decide if you love or hate it.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.