(1999, Takashi Miike)
“I was waiting for your call”
Remember Videodrome? Specifically, remember my particularly scathing attack on the completely nonsensical nature of the movie and how it all seemed to have been made up as it was filmed by a heavily drugged-up David Cronenberg? I stick by my opinion, not least because I have now found another mind-bending film with something to say about hyper-violence. However, unlike Videodrome, this movie actually manages to make some degree of sense in amongst the weirdness.
Audition is a highly misunderstood film. For those who originally went to see it when it first came out, before all the hype caught up with it, they probably thought they were watching a simple romantic melodrama before suddenly it all takes an unexpected turn for the worst. But then the hype caught up with it, and portrayed it as a gruesome torture porn extravaganza; a dark, twisted horror movie that doesn’t let up for a second. It’s neither. It’s something else entirely. I haven’t figured out exactly what yet, but it’s certainly something else.
Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is an aging widower who gets encouraged by his 17-year old son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) to remarry. Although reluctant, he mentions this to his friend and colleague, TV/film producer Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura). Yoshikawa suggests holding a fake film audition to help Aoyama meet his new wife. Aoyama immediately falls for the quiet, enigmatic Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), and plans to ask her to marry him. However, after they take a weekend away, things take a dark turn, leading Aoyama to discover some mysteries from Asami’s past and discover a dark side to her that he never expected.
Initially the movie is incredibly slow, and seems like a slightly dreary story of a lonely old man that may end up moving down some clichéd path that leads to a generic happily ever after ending. However, once the audition kicks off and Asami enters the picture, things start sliding off-kilter. Brief shots that show Asami sitting in an empty apartment with little more than a phone and a mysterious sack sneak in. Aoyama’s dates with her feature bizarre jump cuts. And then as soon as they hit their weekend away, all melodrama is gone, replaced only with a creeping sense of unease as the facts begin to unfold.
Or so it seems, because after this point is where, thanks to the hype, I expected the movie to turn into a Saw-style torture porn flick, with an hour of gruesome mutilation and murder. It doesn’t. It instead steers straight down Lynchian Mind-Screw Street and refuses to change course. And oddly, it bettered my expectations. It made me realise that all the horror in the movie is a steadily growing sense of uncomfortable “wrongness” rather than anything particularly bloody and gruesome.
What’s more, the “facts” we gain on Asami are thrown into question by the movie’s final half-hour. At the risk of spoilers, the movie throws up a jumble of distorted and confusing scenes at the viewer at a fairly speedy pace, and everything ends with a general feeling of “what the hell just happened?” It’s genuinely shocking and unnerving, and while initially it all seems random, it begins to make a bit of sense when the clues are pieced together.
Audition is not without its faults. The mind-screw nature of the plot is open to interpretation and could easily mean nothing just as much as it seems to mean something. Also, the acting is a little poor at times, particularly in the slow portion of the movie. Asami, in particular, is a little awkward. While she was supposed to seem shy and demure, there were instances where she just seemed to be lazily reading off a script rather than emoting. She shines when she’s being creepy, but when she has to act “normal” it tends to fall apart. A lot of the secondary characters are underdeveloped too, especially since there seems to be hints to a backstory for the secretary, but unfortunately it never fully materialises.
Audition isn’t what the hype makes it out to be. It’s something a little bit more fascinating than that. It does have its fair share of gruesome torture and horror, but ultimately, there’s more to it than that. It’s definitely a movie that sticks in the mind, but due to its confusing structure and graphic final half-hour, it’s also definitely not going to be for everyone.
Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Miyuki Mitsuda, Renji Ishibashi & Jun Kunimura
Written by Ryu Murakami (novel) & Daisuke Tengan
Produced by Akemi Suyama & Satoshi Hukushima
Music score by Koji Endo
Cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto
Edited by Yasushi Shimamura
Favourite Scene: The date scenes with the odd jump cuts. It’s the first sign that something is seriously wrong.
Scene That Bugged Me: Asami sits watching her phone in her empty apartment. Then the mysterious bag in the background moves. Felt less shocking and more a cheap jump scare tactic.
Watch it if: You need a reason not to hold an audition for a new girlfriend
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a happy romantic comedy
Originally posted on Blogspot Wednesday 15 February 2012