Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Takashi Miike
Distributed by Arrow Video
Even if you haven’t seen Takashi Miike’s 1999 film Audition, you’ve no doubt heard through the grapevine about the graphic, quite disturbing ending. Hell, I’ve seen the movie at least five times and even for me this is usually the first image that comes to mind. It’s hard not to focus on it. But there’s so much more to the movie, and if you go into it looking for a gore fest, you’ll probably be disappointed. Except for the scenes near the end, there isn’t much violence at all. Instead, the movie plays more like a drama, sometimes even with a “black comedy” tone. It’s the more mundane stuff that makes the final moments that much more intense and frightening.
Miike’s international reputation began with Audition, and though most of his movies aren’t explicitly horror, he is nonetheless revered by fans of the genre and for good reason. For his part, Miike didn’t go into Audition thinking it was much different from the 25 or so movies he’d directed up to that point. It was just another job, one of seven films of his that were released that year. This might sound like a lot, but it was pretty par for the course at the time. He’d regularly released four or five films a year since 1991. He cut his teeth on the burgeoning straight-to-video market (called “V-Cinema” in Japan), so he knew how to make things quickly and efficiently. So much more surprising, then, that his movies are top quality affairs. This is especially true with Audition.
On paper, the story is fairly simple: Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), a widower in early middle age, decides seven years after his wife’s death that it’s time to remarry. This comes at the urging of his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki), who says that his father looks tired. A few days later he discusses this decision with his friend Yasuhisa (Jun Kunimura), who happens to work in the movie business. Yasuhisa comes up with a scheme to find the perfect wife for Aoyama. Why not hold an audition? It would be for a movie that Yasuhisa’s company is thinking of producing anyway, so it wouldn’t be a complete scam, though it’s definitely still deceptive.
Enter Asami (Eihi Shiina). Shy, submissive, and in her mid-twenties, she seems to be everything Aoyama is looking for. But first impressions can be deceiving, eh?
From here, the film mostly plays out as a fairly straight drama/psychological thriller. Hell, if you just caught the flick randomly on TV or something, you’d never guess that you were watching a horror movie. Imagine then sticking the movie out until the third act, when the graphic scenes begin. Even when you know at least something of what’s coming, the final fifteen minutes of the film can be quite jarring.
And then there’s…well,
Audition has been described as both feminist and misogynist, depending on who’s doing the reviewing, but it’s a fool’s errand to peg the film as wholly belonging to either category. The film is ambiguous, and both main characters are very flawed, lacking the self-awareness to realize the kind of damage they’re doing to the other person.
Aoyama begins the story as someone who is removed, not very passionate. This changes somewhat when he meets Asami, but he continues to be very distant and emotionally removed. His search for a wife begins as an altogether pragmatic consideration. This does not make for an equal partnership. There’s never any mention of love. In fact, he gives off the impression that, after his first wife died, the only person he’s capable of loving is his son.
Asami is the opposite. Where Aoyama lacks emotion, that’s all that she has. She is incapable of objectivity. She’s also the dictionary definition of someone who’s been severely abused. She holds people too close, then resents them when they pull away even a little. When she says, “Love me and nobody else,” she means it quite literally. She destroys, but she’s only acting out the cycle of abuse. Aoyama isn’t really the villain, either, but it doesn’t take Asami very long to realize the real reason for the audition. She takes things too far, but so does he.
There’s a lot of interesting psychology at play here, and it’s made even more fascinating by Miike’s shooting style. Many of the shots are quite distant from their subject, with Aoyama in the background while sometimes unimportant details like golf balls or anonymous bar patrons are in the foreground, even in important scenes with a lot of dialogue. All this reflects Aoyama’s emotional distance and it all comes together especially cleverly in the actual audition scene, which takes place in a very clinical setting. It’s in a plain white room with hardwood floors and a single chair fifteen feet away from the desk where Aoyama and Yoshikawa sit. The distance is broken when Asami walks in and takes her seat as the camera slowly pushes in past her sitting in the chair and eventually comes to a stop at a close-up of Aoyama’s face. It’s the first extreme close-up in the film and an indication that his emotional distance is no more, and he’s finally feeling some genuine emotion, some real passion.
The rather straightforward (though very well written) script could have made for a far inferior movie in the hands of someone else. Miike knows exactly how to frame a shot so that it reveals character to the audience on an almost unconscious level. That he also managed to make such a meticulously shot film while making so many other movies that year is a testament to his genius. This is why Miike, though he rarely originates the concepts for his films or writes many scripts, makes movies that are so clearly identifiable as his.
The special features on this Arrow Video special edition are almost as engrossing as the film. There’s a previously recorded commentary with Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengen, where Miike seems incredibly humble about his role in the film, saying things like, “I did the best job I could while staying under budget.” He also makes sure to mention just about everyone else who worked on the movie. Miike and Tengen take plenty of time to discuss in detail the Ryu Murakami novel that the film is based on. The only thing that viewers might find frustrating is that the two don’t often discuss the scene that’s playing in front of them, instead preferring to go on their own tangents related to the film. Though they do talk about the finale in detail as it plays.
There’s also a new commentary by Tom Mes, the author of two books on Miike and a total of six interviews with cast and crew. It’s packed to the hilt with goodies, making it an essential purchase for fans of the movie.
- Brand new 2K restoration of original vault elements
- Original 5.1 Dolby Surround Audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan
- Brand new commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes examining the film and its source novel
- Introduction by Miike
- Ties that Bind – A brand new interview with Takashi Miike
- Interviews with stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi
- Damaged Romance: An appreciation by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
Miike’s break out hit is a slow-burn that’s well worth the wait until the famous climax. Audition is essential viewing for fans of Japanese horror.