(director: Takashi Miike; screenwriters: from the novel by Ryu Murakami/Daisuke Tengan; cinematographer: Hideo Yamamoto; editor: Yasushi Shimamura; music: Kôji Endô; cast: Ryo Ishibashi (Shigeharu Aoyama), Eihi Shiina (Asami Yamazaki), Tetsu Sawaki (Shigehiko Aoyama), Jun Kunimura (Yasuhisa Yoshikawa), Renji Ishibashi (Renji Ishibashi), Miyuki Matsuda (Ryoko Aoyama); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Akemi Suyama; Vitagraph Films; 1999-Japan)
“It takes sexual tensions to a dreamlike extreme and has a Grand Guignol ending that should be upsetting to the faint of heart…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
“Audition” is a moralistic, bone chilling, cult horror film that is a work of superior craftsmanship, but its feverish artistry might not appeal to all because it’s so gruesome in its climax. This art-house film won many festival prizes for Japanese director Takashi Miike (“Dead or Alive“), which thereby gave him instant world recognition as a filmmaker. It takes sexual tensions to a dreamlike extreme and has a Grand Guignol ending that should be upsetting to the faint of heart–especially men who might identify with the male victim. The subplot rails against Japanese society for making women an object of their power trips. It’s taken from a story by Ryu Murakami and it’s smartly reworked from a script by the son of noted Japanese director Shohei Imamura, Daisuke Tengan.
It’s seven years since the successful owner of a video production company, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), lost his beloved wife to cancer, and he has since remained unmarried, grief-stricken, lonely, sad-eyed, and chaste. The nice guy is now projected as a 42-year-old workaholic who is very close to his well-adjusted 16-year-old son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki), who tells him he looks old and should start dating before it’s too late. This stirs him up to seek a bride, one who meets his ideal standards — a young, obedient, and traditionally minded woman of good looks who is trained in the arts. Aoyama, being unsophisticated about how to go about seeking such a classy bride, seeks the support of his slick, worldly movie producer friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura). He convinces Aoyama that they should run an audition for actresses to a non-existent movie and that after Aoyama looks over their photos and resumes he should narrow the field down to thirty and they will audition them. Aoyama reluctantly agrees, even though the idea of such an audition he realizes is certainly not ethical. It leaves him feeling slightly guilty about the charade, but not enough to not go through with it.
Aoyama is attracted only to the 24-year-old Asami (Eihi Shiina). She had to give up her career as a ballet dancer after studying for 12 years and then damaging her hips. She says, “It was like accepting death.” This arouses Aoyama, as he believes he has found his soulmate. He’s also attracted to her because of all of the following reasons: she’s demure, pretty, deferentially polite, and smartly dressed in a virginal white suit and matching shoes. But he’s warned by his friend that there’s something not right about her–her references don’t check out. Yoshikawa, also, just has a bad vibe about this one that he can’t put his finger on–but his warnings fall on deaf ears.
The relationship developing between Aoyama and Asami is like watching a nightmare in hell mushroom even further out of control. One is not sure what’s real and what’s an hallucination, as what follows their first date are scenes redone with different results, hallucinations within hallucinations, and recurring flashbacks boldly showing them in action. The young woman is a victim of childhood abuse and her emotional scars have never healed, leaving her hateful of men. While the middle-class Aoyama has his innocence punctured because of his matchmaking deception and his patronizing male chauvinistic attitude. He’s left to fret over his sexual desires, his unfulfilled expectations over his idealizations, his paranoia over what he imagines is happening to him, and his guilt about betraying his late wife.
“Audition” is almost like the Hollywood-styled cattle call for a part in a movie, which makes some political hay out of testing the actresses’ nerves in the face of rejection from the sexist men in charge. In the bizarre turn of events, after the two get together, Asami tells Aoyama: “Words create lies. Pain can be trusted.” The only thing that can be trusted about this film, is that it is macabre even though it has elements that begin the film much like the work of a classical Yasujiro Ozu family drama–where there’s a search to complete what’s lost from the nuclear family. Instead of continuing in that vein it takes on the psychological mood of a Chabrol thriller and leaves us with an unforgettable piano wire related non-musical ending that makes this film go beyond the dark images of even a Dario Argento shocker. It successfully fuses intellectual curiosity with gore, but it leaves the film without a label except to be noted for its originality and boldness. The somewhat sympathetic bourgeois patriarchal figure not only fails the audition, but gets his retribution by being forced to see that his dreams have been mirages that have only blindly been created by him.
REVIEWED ON 11/14/2002 GRADE: A –