Home: The House Imp
Even though Japanese films enjoy a dedicated cult following outside the Japanese borders, some directors will remain forever unknown to the outside world. Seiji Izumi is most probably one of them and even though the odd individual may come into contact with one of his many films, chances are slim he'll ever garner serious international attention. For what it's worth though, Home: The House Imp [Home: Itoshi No Zashiki Warashi] is worth a little gamble.
There's really no way around it, Izumi's film feels an awful lot like a serious attempt to adapt the much lauded fantasy realm of Ghibli/Miyazaki to the world of live action cinema. The similarities between this film and My Neighbor Totoro are at times almost uncanny. From the very first shots of a family arriving to a house in the Japanese countryside, to the exploration of the old house and overall feel-good atmosphere, the Ghibli influence is present from start to finish. Add a dash of Only Yesterday and you know what to expect.
Instead of the majestic Totoro creature (Izumi didn't go that far) we're dealing with house imps this time around. We join the Takahashi family as they are moving away from Tokyo to the countryside. The reason for their move is Koichi's transfer to another department after failing his job in HQ. When the five of them arrive at their new home none of them is too happy with the situation, even though the location looks quite idyllic.
The entire family has plenty of trouble adapting to life in the countryside, especially when some pretty strange things start happening to them. They see stern faces peering in from outside the windows, eerie noises are heard during the night and small pranks start taking their toll on the family. Just when the Takahashi family is ready to pack up and leave they uncover the truth behind these strange occurrences, and they decide to take a small leap of faith.
Home: The House Imp looks surprisingly lush throughout. The way the Japanese countryside is captured is absolutely stunning, the film is dominated by fresh greens and sunny blues and the camera work is soft and delicate. Everything put together, it creates a pretty magical atmosphere that stands in sharp contrast with the cold greys and blues from the (few) city scenes.
The soundtrack is pretty inconspicuous. It's not bad by all means, but it's pretty much what you'd expect from a film like this. Light in tone, always humming in the background and never really making its presence felt. It does add a little to the overall feel-good atmosphere of the film, but it's difficult to see it as anything else but necessary filler.
Apart from a short Renji Ishibashi cameo there probably aren't too many faces you will recognize. The actors aren't too bad, though it's clear that quite a few of them have a background in TV-series work. Still, the characters aren't very complicated and each of the five family members has their own little moment to shine. The secondary cast is decent, but it's clear from the start that these actors aren't going to win any big prizes.
The difference between this film and your average Ghibli feel-gooder lies with the amount of drama applied. Where a film like Totoro hardly needs a dramatic arc and relies on feel-good alone, Izumi does add a portion of unnecessary tension to his film. It doesn't kill the film's atmosphere and the light-hearted tone never comes close to being compromised, but it does feel pretty flimsy at times. If Izumi hadn't done such a good job building a beautiful setting it could've been fatal, but because of this little bubble of magic he created I just couldn't care.
Home: The House Imp is a great film if you don't mind a serious dash of extravagant feel-good. The dramatic impulses feel a little cheap and the film clearly lacks the subtleties of Miyazaki's and Takahata's work, but while pretty fluffy it's a sublime piece of escapism that charms its way throughout its running time. Chances are pretty slim this film is ever going to make its way out of Japan, but if you happen upon it, you should definitely give it a try.