REVIEW – Audition (オーディション)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Produced by: Satoshi Fukushima, Akemi Suyama
Screenplay by: Daisuke Tengan
Edited by: Yasushi Shimamura
Cinematography by: Hideo Yamamoto
Music by: Koji Endo
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi, Shigeru Saiki, Ken Mitsuishi, Ren Ohsugi
“Kiri, kiri, kiri…”
For years, this movie remained a source of almost profound morbid curiosity for me. When it was available on Netflix’s streaming service, I put it there almost immediately, and yet it sat in my queue for what seems like years (and probably was). The woman with an ominous syringe in her black-gloved hand in the artwork seemingly looked down upon me for my cowardice for being far too frightened to just hit “Play” and see what she intends to do with it. I’d heard about the film and even read some vague commentary on its premise, but I’d managed to avoid spoilers for the most part, and I never really had the full picture as a result. Most of what I’d heard surrounded the film’s sudden shift in tone and allusions to the shocking and disturbing imagery that awaited viewers who worked up the courage to follow through in their own viewing experience.
However, I continued to hold out, and eventually the film left the streaming service. This year, however, I decided to force myself, and I threw the movie into my DVD queue – notably toward the bottom of the list of horror films I’d added for this season, so that I could psyche myself up. Of course, fate had other ideas, as the top films got delayed, unbeknownst to me, resulting in Audition’s premature and unexpected arrival at my home address. Because the imagined imagery was so vivid in my memory, I nearly sent it back, to be honest (I don’t handle torture scenes well), but no – I decided I would finally get this done and over with…
I’m going to attempt to not spoil too much here, but I am going to say upfront that Audition is a surprisingly simple film, and so in discussing some of the basic concepts, I do worry that I will be spoiling the film too much for some of you, even if it doesn’t ultimately destroy the basic shock factor of the details. (Heck, the trailer I saw afterward seems to spoil more than I will.) So, if you do wish to go in blind, you may want to stop reading further and go see it yourself first. It’s worth it. The film is expertly directed and has very satisfying, methodical pacing. The performances from both leads, Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina, are fantastic, with special mention of first time actress Shiina’s ability to turn coquettish into a terrifying trait. And the commentary on the roles of gender is fairly nuanced and complex – which we will be discussing here. But, again, the premise itself is pretty simple, to the point where I think even the marketing material spoils the movie. Personally, I can say that knowing even the themes behind it, particularly in combination with the title and the now iconic imagery, will spoil the events of the film alone if you’re able to piece it all together, so even now I’ve perhaps said too much, though it’s probably not too late to turn away. So, yeah, if you want to go in blind, just go watch it.
You still with me at this point? Alright, then – you’ve been warned.
First, let’s discuss the general premise. Shigeharu Aoyama – a middle-aged widower, film executive, and single father to a young son – begins to feel as though his life is incomplete, years after the untimely death of his wife. At the behest of his son and a colleague from work, Shigeharu uses his unique position to stage a phony audition for a part in a nonexistent movie with the ulterior motive of finding himself a new wife from the candidates. Before they can even begin, however, he becomes infatuated with one in particular: Asami Yamazaki. She seems like the perfect, young, and subservient girl of his dreams, and despite her lack of experience, he falls for her, thanks to her tragic story of dreams lost. And, once they meet face-to-face, she, too also seems to think he’s pretty ideal himself… in her own special way.
To say that Audition has an unprecedented shift in tone halfway through is an understatement. The film starts off with a premise that would be more befitting a romantic comedy or even a drama than your standard horror film. As many who have seen it have previously noted, the film purposely lulls you into a false sense of security for quite a while before it begins to suggest something sinister going on. Even if you’re already aware of there being a tonal shift later on, the shift in tone is shocking. And, once it gets to that breaking point, the film goes full on into psychological terror mode.
At the beginning of the DVD presentation I watched, the film was preceded by brief intros from director Takashi Miike and star Eihi Shiina. Shiina suggests that the film will likely mean something different to men compared to what it will mean to women, implying that men will be predisposed to identifying with Shigeharu and women with Asami. (Miike, for the record, just spends this brief intro entreating audiences to enjoy the film because it is, in his own opinion, very well made. So humble!) However, I don’t think that’s necessarily how it is with this film – or, at least, that doesn’t have to be how it has to be. I think it’s fairly simple to see things from both sides, regardless, though the takeaways may be slightly different. Shigeharu isn’t really a monster, despite going along with such a scheme. He’s a common man who let his loneliness, desperation, sexual drive, and peer pressure get the best of him. He’s most definitely taken in by the sexist boys’ club mentality, given his checklist for the perfect woman. It’s pretty freaking skeevy that he staged the event, but he doesn’t seem particularly malicious, either. Asami, meanwhile, is a victim of that type of systematic sexism, one that tells her that she is to remain subservient, obedient, satisfactory, and infatuated with her men, to the point where she has devised her own screwed up means of keeping them around while also lashing out in frustration. The “in between” here is that there’s a symbiotically cursed relationship going on.
Watching the movie, I didn’t get a sense that Asami herself was acting out of actual vengeance, just as I don’t think Shigeharu intended to be exploitative and sexist. What the men do to women in this movie is horrendous, and what Asami does to them, in turn, is also horrendous. All that being said, Asami’s actions are most definitely reactionary, and while it sees problems with her (obviously – she’s basically this movie’s monster, to the point where some reviewers have called her “demonic”), the original blame still most definitely lies with the men who inflicted harm upon her and other women in general. And, yet, I’m not so certain the film ultimately “takes sides,” in the end, either. The movie is empathetic to both, in its way. Shigeharu is clearly already tortured by the idea of moving on from his wife and just wants to reclaim some happiness that he’s been denying, and while it’s screwed up how he meets Asami, he does seem to genuinely care about her as a whole. Asami, oddly enough, also seems to have some affection for him, albeit, again, in that disturbing way of hers. She clearly wants and needs someone to be with, and yet her previous suitors didn’t provide her with the type of selfless affection she deserved, transforming her into a creature who at times heaps affection upon her suitors and then inflicts great pain upon them once she’s with them. The infamous climax may seem like a mere horror movie torture scene, but the way she talks, you kind of get a sense that she may just want to share her pain with her beloved – though, again, just in her seriously screwed up way. By the time you reach the strangely romantic finale, you’re likely to feel almost equally sympathetic to both of them, regardless of their faults.
Audition is honestly pretty fascinating and handles its subject matter with surprising care for a horror movie. It’s complex and yet its ideas are also fairly simple to understand. It’s a horror film that is torturous, but it’s not torture porn, either. The film is artistically solid as a whole. The actors are great, it looks great, and it even sounds great – though, your definition of “great” may not include some of the gut-wrenching sounds that are featured. … Yeah, that climax is seriously disturbing. But don’t let that scare you to the point of avoiding the film. If you’re a fan of the genre, embrace the terror. Even if you haven’t seen it and read to this point and know how it ends, it’ll surprise you, still, in just how it all plays out.
Just try not to run out on it…
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5