Audition Netflix | Amazon | iTunes | Vudu DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Takashi Miike
Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi
Originally Released: October 06, 1999
I love talking about movies with people, and so a matter that recently came up in discussion was a brainstorm/list of some of the most fucked up movies we’ve ever seen. While many suggested were ones I had seen, one stood out to me as one of those I’d always anticipated to see, but had never gotten around to it: Audition. So, taking the advice of a gypsy goddess, I dove back into my healthy obsession for horror and gore and challenging movies, and queued it up for my streaming review.
Audition is, in essence, a very deceiving movie. While it’s marketed and classified in the horror genre, the very cringe-inducing moments come much later in the film, though this does not diminish its impact. The story focuses on Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), a widower, who after many years of raising his son Shigehiko Aoyama (Tetsu Sawaki) on his own decides that it is time to begin dating again.
Ready to move on in life, but uncertain how to do so, Aoyama’s film-making associate Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) suggests they hold mock auditions for a female lead in a fake movie. While going through the applications, Aoyama stumbles across the submission by Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), and is mesmerized by both her visual appearance and her sobering words in her essay indicating her difficult experiences in life.
The auditions aside, Aoyama begins seeing Asami, taking delight in each other’s company on several dinner dates while they get to know each other. Asami reveals more abusive history from her troubled past and the relationship reaches its peak with the pair sharing a weekend away together. However, during this vacation, Asami leaves silently and goes into hiding, in which Aoyama begins an intense search for the woman who has stolen his heart – but which results in some of the most gut-wrenching, cringe-inducing torture sequences ever made in the history of motion pictures.
But while the horror aspect is a shorter element of the film, and closer to the conclusion of the movie, its impact is overamplified by the slower-paced first half. In fact, the early part of the movie is quirky, but mundane, and plays somewhat like a romantic comedy. It sucks you in though, with the audition including all the actresses affording a light-hearted sequence of amusing moments.
The evolving romanticism in the first part is magnetic, so much so, that’s it is completely fucking deceiving. Director Takashi Miike lures you in to a delightful sense of positiveness, only to sway you into a false sense of calm before the storm of some of the most fucked-up scenes you will ever see.
Some horror fans may find this film a little problematical to digest, simply because of the longer slow-paced setup. Unlike the immediate beer and bourbon buzz of your average horror flick, Audition is instead a fine aged wine that takes its time before you really feel it hit you. And when it does hit you, there is a judicious amount of gore, though it is heavily accented with the character’s reactions – particularly the insane enjoyment our antagonist gets in torturing others. The entire film, as a horror story, is delicately and thoughtfully paced with the feel of some of the old classics.
More importantly, however, is the mind-boggling subtext, commentary, and symbolism that Miike’s story is built upon. There is much depth in the film, with symbols such as the picture of Aoyama’s wife becoming incredibly important in the overall composition of the plot. There are clear moral intentions and statements within the story as well, particularly a huge plot element that zones in on how we, as faulty humans, see what we choose to see, but often neglect the obvious right in front of us the whole time.
Aoyama’s son also plays an important, almost "wise sage" function, imparting important advice, especially "love is blind"! His son also focuses greatly on dinosaurs and past epochs, symbolically positioning the story structure as somewhat more figurative and metaphoric rather than literal. While it is possible to follow the narrative as The Story of Aoyama, it could well be that the actual narrative is a hallucinatory fascination in the mind of "what is in the bag". You will see what I mean. There is much projecting and hinting at alternative positioning of the story.
Highly criticized upon its release for its gory torture, Audition maintains to be pointed at as ‘one of those fucked up Japan horror flicks’. Despite this stigma, and in spite of the fact that there ARE intense torture scenes in the movie, what’s more important about the movie is that those explicit moments are put together solidly on top of significant symbolism and subtext, commentary and meaning. It adds further depth and importance to all scenes, including the gory moments, as to the solidarity of the story Takashi Miike is telling. Look a little deeper than the surface violence, and you’ll find an incredibly solid story with unforgettable intensity.
And yet, while Audition does have this cohesion, with its reputation as being a "fucked up movie" brings with it an expectation that there will be overwhelming scenes. Indeed there are overwhelming scenes, though I found myself expecting more disconcerting horror moments than what were shown… in this, Audition has become a victim of its own reputation, rather than it having an accurate aura, it (like the first half of the plot) is quite deceiving. I think some of the uncompromising horror addicts might find this element to be disappointing.
On the technical side, Takashi Miike uses a wide range of filming techniques, now and then using the camera to take on the first-person view, placing them right in the place of the moment. In other scenes, hand-held camera work is used to emphasize drama and stress, tension and panic. The scene settings is important too – the second time Aoyama meets Asami Yamazaki for a ‘date’, Miike ensures the table is set with one glass partly drunk, indicated how long Shigeharu has been waiting for her. These atmospheric settings are extraordinarily important for the unveiling of the plot.
The performances in Audition are of a satisfactory quality, though Eihi Shiina steals the show with her demented joy in torturing others. The sheer glee she displays is disturbing and incredibly frightening, and she also successfully portrays a significant eeriness throughout scenes in the movie. Jun Kunimura is also good in this movie, an underrated role I think, in which he provides an important advisory role for our main character, forewarning and forearming others with counsel that largely goes ignored.
Audition is indeed a disturbing film, but as a standalone piece, as well as being a radical movie that would later influence the ‘torture-porn’ subgenre, there is more to it than just the horror aspects. Takashi Miike’s movie is bold and sharp, with a great deal of depth established as its foundation. It is a solid story with a great deal of symbolism and open-endedness that will leave you both full of thoughts, and thoroughly disturbed. You will find this one hard to watch, but if you’re an aficionado of horror, you will find it striking.