Nobuhiko Ohbayashi1977 experimental horror comedy Accommodation tackles a different type of fear. The film was developed by Toho Studios in an effort to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielbergit is Jaws. What they got was something completely different. On first impressions, everything looks quite familiar. It is the story of seven schoolgirls who visit the mansion of an old aunt in the countryside and are consequently killed one by one. A haunted house movie filled with stereotypical beheadings, bloodbaths and creepy dolls. However, it is not the elements that make Accommodation scary. Which makes Accommodation chilling is how he portrays the threat of heteronormativity through his abstract depiction of marriage and a loss of individuality.
The suffocating theme of marriage casts a disturbing shadow over Ôbayashi’s life. Accommodation. This theme is evident early on when Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba) compliment their gym teacher when they announce their engagement. The girls eagerly proclaim that she must marry “for love” before their teacher smiles and tells them it’s an arranged marriage. As she sends the students back to class, we linger on the face of their teacher. It’s a smile, but one of nostalgia for simpler times. “How nice. Summer vacation,” remarks the teacher before continuing on her way. From the beginning, we see how the expectation of marriage scratches the freedom of its cast.
We are then introduced to the rest of the film’s cast of girls, each characterized by a single personality trait. Including the aforementioned gorgeous named for her looks and Fantasy for her wild imagination, there’s also Melody the Pianist (Eriko Tanaka), Professor the university (Ai Matsubara), Sweet, innocent soul (Masayo Miyako), Kung-Fu, the martial artist (Miki Jinbo) and Mac (Mieko Sato), the hungry one. Having characters so tasteless at first glance seems an intentionally dark and comedic choice to contrast their cheerful cartoonish looks with the horrors they’re about to face.
On the contrary, the unidimensionality of AccommodationThe cast of ‘s exists to further emphasize each girl’s individuality before she is stripped away by the institution of marriage. To convey this, each girl’s fate aligns with the very personality trait that defines them, ultimately being their death in various ironic ways. Mac being the first to die is representative of her inability to find a suitor due to societal stigma against eating habits like hers. Melody’s death scene in which she is swallowed by a piano shows how marriage has tightened her up and prevented her from being able to follow her passion as a musician. As events progress, it becomes apparent that Accommodation feels less like a horror movie and more like a twisted coming-of-age story.
Sweet’s death is perhaps the most compelling in the film. During the girl’s stay with Auntie, Sweet takes on the primary role of maid and begins cleaning the mansion. She walks into a room full of bedding material only to be surprised when she’s knocked into oblivion by an onslaught of falling mattresses. The girls investigate the room to discover Sweet’s abandoned clothes and a naked doll, a literal objectification of Sweet. Later in the movie, when Kung-Fu and the Professor find Sweet’s body trapped in a grandfather clock. The gears spin, gradually turning against his body and reducing his form to red slime oozing from the cracks of the machination. The cruellest fate of all. Time makes our youth obsolete. It’s an over the top representation of the idea by having a girl trapped in a literal clockwork, but Accommodation is far from being a silent film.
Then there is the film’s male protagonist, Mr. Tôgô (Kiyohiko Ozaki), or rather, the man whom the girls in the film want him to be the protagonist. Tôgô is presented as the schoolgirls’ teacher and a beacon of masculinity for them. Through all the terrors of the film, the girls remain hopeful that Mr. Tôgô will eventually arrive and save them from this nightmare. At one point, Fantasy dreams of Tôgô literally arriving home as a knight in shining armor to save the girls. Fantasy wears a princess costume and rides with Mr. Tôgô at sunset while a fake “The End” card appears on screen.
“He’s a man, after all, he can help us,” says Mélodie. Yet, as the girls are abducted, we cut to the perspective of Mr. Tôgô as he walks towards the old estate. We see that he is not in a brave race. He gets yelled at in traffic or eats noodles in a restaurant. He does not come to save them; it exists just to stifle their emotional independence. This is no more evident than in his death scene where he encounters a watermelon vendor and argues over being turned into a pile of bananas. It’s an absurd ending, sure, but what more fitting spell for a parody of the opposite sex than the hopelessly phallic symbol of a banana?
AccommodationThe most tragic depiction of the supposed marriage is seen in Auntie (Yoko Minamida), the film’s antagonist. Aunty was engaged at the start of World War II but, before she could marry, her fiancé was drafted into the army and died before he could return home. The girl eventually learns that the aunt has now become a vengeful spirit, now eating unmarried girls who visit her country house. She kills each of the schoolgirls throughout the film and despite her cruelty, she is clearly a tragic character. She is not someone who is trapped in the obligation of marriage that plagues the other girls in the film. Instead, it’s letting grief define her that’s her biggest flaw. To prey on the misfortune of others, to ensure that they will never feel a love like the one that was denied to him.
The story for Accommodation was inspired by the many childhood fears of Ôbayashi’s daughter Chigumi Obayashi. Obayashi tapped into those fears while working on the script with Chiho Katsura, including elements such as a girl-eating house or a disembodied head at the bottom of a well. It’s only fitting that a film littered with such abstract, childish horrors has at its heart the ever-present angst of coming of age and the obligations that come with it. Blood, witches, and ghosts are all rather ordinary in the face of the very real fear of growing up and saying goodbye to the simple happiness of summer vacation with your friends.