Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Ryu Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina
Audition starts out like a dream and unfolds into a nightmare. Balancing out an intriguing study of two characters, what appears to be a romantic drama, and an eventual shocking turn to body horror, this is film is essential viewing for that of any interested in a director’s abilities to mix genres. I haven’t seen many of Miike’s films, but based off this and Ichi the Killer one can surmise that he has a personal interest the bizarrely hyperviolent worlds that films can transport people to. It’s no surprise that Tarantino is a Miike fan, and that Miike cast Tarantino in Sukiyaki Western Django, as neither depict violence realistically, instead savoring in the cinematic qualities of torture and fights, the way two characters can form a strange bond between shared sweating and suffering.
Aging widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) wants to marry again, as his son is almost grown and independent and he feels an empty presence in his house. His friend, with a weird way of showing appreciation for Aoyama, uses his connections as a film producer to provide him with “auditions” for the role of Aoyama’s new girlfriend, with the girls unwittingly thinking they’ll be in a film if they’re chosen. This approach to dating can be perceived as socially lurid, but in case I haven’t made it clear, the luridness doesn’t stop here. Aoyama is immediately captivated by Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), and thinks her story of being a ballerina who never saw her time is one truly worth weeping over. They date briefly, and eventually make love, and shortly thereafter Asami disappears, causing her past and psychosis to truly unravel.
Audition takes a turn for the absurd at this point. We see dismemberment, horrific and labyrinthine flashbacks, a fight, and even a small hallucination from beyond the grave. The line between dreams and reality, past and present often becomes blurry and we are uncertain of who Asami truly is, creating a confusion in the viewer that I can only conclude is Miike’s way of having us identify with her new lover. Nevertheless, those who were bored with the simple melodrama of its first act will stare at the screen (either from intrigue or pure shock) until the end of its runtime.
The film’s narrative can be incoherent and confusing for first-time viewers. Some may be frustrated by its lack of cohesiveness and its lack of linear structure, especially when noting how simple and easy the first hour was. And there will be others who are simply turned off by the levels of gore and torture that Audition has to offer. Its messages and the implications and metaphors of the brutality are made clear and to some, grossly exaggerated upon in some of its scenes. Its not a film for the casual viewer, but the one already dedicated to certain kinds of cinema.
While many be turned off from Audition, its influence on modern horror is clear. The Soska sisters’ production American Mary features similar feats of a woman vengefully performing surgeries on the men who wronged her. There’s also the horror concoction of the 21st century, “torture porn” which has many advocates citing Audition as an influence. Despite small imperfections, this film has all the makings of a cult classic. Even if you’re uninterested in the depictions of the macabre, anyone interested in film should try this film at least once.