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Sweet Home: The Film, The Game, and the Humble Beginnings of Resident Evil

July 31, 2019 7 min read

Sweet Home: The Film, The Game, and the Humble Beginnings of Resident Evil

Sweet Home was a joint film and video game endeavor spearheaded by actor, filmmaker, and producer Juzo Itami, famous for his roles in The Family Game and The Makioka Sisters and as a director for comedies like Tampopo. The film was released in January of 1989, while the game took almost another year to hit store shelves, releasing in December.

The film was directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a well-known name in the Japanese horror scene. His most popular film is likely Kairo from 2001, which received an American remake as Pulse in 2006.


Itami as “Yamamura” from Sweet Home (1988)

Sweet Home was one of Kurosawa’s earlier films, which he is reportedly not very fond of due to the filmmaking process. Itami - who at the time was very well known at the Japanese box office with several successful films - took over production of the movie and actually re-cut it to his liking, ousting Kurosawa in the process.

Despite the issues in filmmaking, Sweet Home ends up being a pretty alright movie. Its greatest criticism is that it is very “par for the course” and conventional, which makes sense as Itami was probably looking for a box office hit with the film.

The story centres around a film crew producing a documentary about an artist named Ichirou Mamiya. It is believed that he painted one of his last works, a massive fresco, inside his own home before his family’s untimely death. The crew travels to the Mamiya Mansion to find it locked and abandoned by the locals. With some trepidation the film crew is allowed to enter the hallowed halls of Mamiya Mansion with the belief that the stories of the house being haunted are just old folktale and the film may bring some positive focus and tourism to the area.

The documentary crew includes Kazuo, the producer (Shingo Yamashiro), Akiko, the director (Nobuko Miyamoto), Taguchi, the photographer (Ichiro Furutachi), Asuka, the reporter (Fukumi Kurodo), and Emi, Kazuo’s young daughter (Japanese pop star Nokko). Later in the film the crew come across a local named Yamamura (portrayed by Itami himself), who is very familiar with the Mamiya familly and their home.

Once the crew finally manages to find Mamiya Mansion they discover it in grave disrepair, but begin the process of carefully restoring and photographing Mamiya’s last fresco before they start to notice strange haunted occurrences happening in the abandoned home.

The film is certainly what you would call a “slow burn”. It is very focused on the details of what happened to Mamiya and his family that resulted in their deaths 30 years prior, as well as delving into the relationship between Kazuo, Emi, and Akiko. It takes about 40 minutes are so before you get your first good scare of the film, but that is where it all pays off.

The special effects for Sweet Home were provided by none other than Dick Smith, of The Exorcist fame. For this type of haunted house movie it is actually quite surprising to see this level of gore brandished and the special effects end up being a real standout, both in the splatter department as well as the creature effects.

Special creature effects by Dick Smith of The Exorcist fame

Special creature effects by Dick Smith of "The Exorcist" fame

The film was a well-financed affair with Itami on board, but as I watched I could not help but sense a low budget vibe from it. The special effects were certainly top-notch, but it was also very apparent that the entire film took place with a few location shots and on a set of maybe five or six different rooms in the mansion. External shots of the house usually consisted of obfuscated doors and gates, as well as panning shots of the entire building, which very clearly looked to be a model filmed at scale.

There are certainly better haunted house films out there to watch, but Sweet Home is worth the viewing just to see some of Dick Smith’s effects. The criminal thing, however, is that Sweet Home only ever received a VHS and Laserdisc release, neither of which were subtitled or released internationally. As a result, VHS copies can fetch upward of $160 USD and the Laserdisc goes for nearly $350 USD.

The video game was not created as an adaptation of the film so much as it was developed alongside it, almost as an expansion of the story. Itami was producer on the title with Kurosawa acting as a supervisor.

The game was developed by famed video game company Capcom and the development team was lead by Tokuru Fujiwara, who had previously worked on heavy-hitter arcade titles like Ghosts n’ Goblins, Bionic Commando, and Mega Man.

Sweet Home would be Fujiwara’s first foray into a role playing title and the game was created for the Nintendo Famicom, the most widely popular home system at the time.

Sweet Home for the Nintendo Famicom

 
Akin to the release of the Sweet Home film, the video game was never released outside of Japan and that has to do with the gory horror representation on display. Sweet Home is nothing like any game you would remember on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The developers did not just throw a couple of bats and mummies into the game and call it a day. The enemies and scenery really pop with possessed dolls, hordes of squirming worms, and grotesque oozing maniacs wielding scimitars.

The gameplay is very interesting. At its core, Sweet Home is an RPG, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of a vast fantasy landscape for your characters to explore, the characters of Sweet Home only traverse the infamous Mamiya Mansion. In order to spice up and lengthen the gameplay, the developers added a cool mechanic.

The five aforementioned characters of the film are your only teammates in the video game and each has an ability that corresponds to their film counterpart. For instance, Taguchi can take pictures and Asuka has a vacuum (which makes sense if you’ve seen the film). These different abilities help the player traverse the many obstacles of House Mamiya.

One of the many gruesome monsters you’ll face in Mamiya Mansion

 

As an added twist, you can only form teams of up to three characters at a time, so you have to juggle back and forth between different groups of characters, which constantly need to be shuffled in order to get past different barriers in the game.

Inter-mixed with all these puzzles are items strewn throughout the mansion that are needed to cross certain gaps or open doors, as well as weapons and restorative items to keep your characters healthy while facing off against random encounters with some truly gruesome monsters.

The story of Sweet Home is not an exact replica of the film’s, which is often the case with video game adaptations of movies, but it follows the basics of it well enough. You would sort of expect it to follow the film’s story more than most video game adaptations, only because the two properties were developed in tandem and intended for a close to simultaneous release, but Sweet Home the video game ends up about as faithful to the film as, say, Data East’s Robocop game. The main theme is there, but all sorts of stuff is added to pad out the game and, frankly, that is not that surprising.

As I mentioned, Sweet Home never had a release on the NES and copies on the Famicom run around $35 USD for a loose cart to $140 USD in the original box. None of these have a translation, however, so the only way for someone to play who can’t read Japanese kanji is to acquire a fan translation of the game, either via an emulator on PC or on an NES reproduction cartridge, which are not uncommon.

In ‘93, Capcom made the decision to revisit the Sweet Home franchise and began development on a new video game with Fujiwara back at the helm and up-and-comer Shinji Mikami. Mikami had joined Capcom in 1990 and had some success with ports of Disney games based on Aladdin and Goof Troop for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The game began its life as a remake of Sweet Home. When Fujiwara first started development of Sweet Home on the Famicom he lamented the limitations of the hardware, but the salability of a game on such a ubiquitous system drove the business decision to stick with Nintendo’s flagship console. Now, with Sony’s PlayStation in his sights he wanted to create a game of a similar ilk, but without the previous limitations. It would feature a B-movie style story starring a group of people trying to get out of a horror-filled house taken over by grisly monsters.

Sounds familiar, right? Well guess, what? That game was Resident Evil.

Resident Evil switched the storyline up completely from its predecessor, using zombies and bio-genetic monsters in lieu of ghosts, and cops instead of a film crew, but when you compare the two games at a high level the similarities smack you right in the face.

Resident Evil for the Sony PlayStation (1996)

 

Whereas Sweet Home’s limited text interface and juggling of characters made the game a bit of a slog now and then to get through, Resident Evil was streamlined and much more playable when developed for the latest hardware available at the time.

So in the end, the story of Sweet Home - both the film release and the video game - ends up being almost more interesting than the output itself. That is not to slight the movie or the game; they’re both worth your time all on their own. But considering that Sweet Home was a direct force behind what is arguably one of the biggest media franchises of all time, Resident Evil, which to date has 33 games, six live action films, four animated films, and a slew of novels and comic adaptations, most definitely makes its existence just a little more important than the media franchise Juzo Itami attempted to create in 1988.

Ryan Hollohan is a husband and father of three based out of Nova Scotia, Canada. In his free time he is a freelance writer for Pixel Elixir and creator of the nostalgia site RetroDef.ca. You can find him on Twitter at @RyHoMagnifico.