I had heard a lot about Audition. Friends telling me that it was very disturbing, people telling me that it’s a cautionary tale for men. But until we received this Asian Horror box set to review, I never had the inclination to watch it.
But, the morning after finally making the effort to view it, the twisted elements that make up Takashi Miike’s Audition are still playing on my mind.
After a lengthy illness, Ryoko Aoyama dies, leaving her husband, Shigehikoand son to carry on without her. Both take the loss hard, and Shigehiko struggles to have any relationships with the opposite sex for 10 years.
Eventually, with some encouragement from his son, the widower decides that he is ready to find a new lady but is unsure about how to go about it.
His friend, Yasuhisa works in the film industry and has an interesting suggestion, that he should help him to audition for a film that may or may not ever happen. The purpose of which being to invite a thousand or so women to meet them, quiz them, then perhaps take any favourites out for dinner with a view to marrying them. He doesn’t hang around.
Okay, it’s a bit deceitful, but a long way from evil. Or am I only saying that because I’m a man?
Shigehiko eventually finds a lady (Yamazaki Asami) that seems to tick all of the boxes. And although there’s something a little strange about her, he soon falls in love and the relationship grows.
However, that ‘little’ bit of strangeness turns out to be quite a lot of strangeness, and nastiness and in a Fatal Attraction sort of way, Shigehiko soon regrets ever agreeing to the whole audition idea.
Seasoned director Miike has a talent for making his audiences feel uncomfortable.
Audition is slow and methodical, drawn-out and torturous, much like actions of Yamazaki (the auditionee) later on in the film.
For much of the experience find yourself waiting impatiently for some clue about what lies ahead – wondering what might happen to Shigehiko – as, for instance, you watch 5 minutes of him and his son having a mundane conversation, followed by him washing the dishes.
And it’s a clever device. This crawl contrasts well with the confusing rapid cuts, flashbacks and dreamlike (or nightmarish) visions that occur later in the film. Day-to-day life, drudgery and boredom replaced by surreal events, passion and anxiety.
The formality of Japanese life and its patriarchal bias is possibly even over emphasised. It’s made clear that Shigehiko and men in general are responsible for their own chauvinistic actions and any effects that may stem from them. He wanted to take ownership of a new woman, and wanted to scrutinise and select from them as a farmer would with livestock. But as we discover, looking for a partner in such a way can have its consequences.
The film is beautifully haunting. From the stark, brightly-lit audition room, to the glowing, hellish ballet school. And Eihi Shiina’s (Yamazaki) gangly, unassuming frame is immediately fascinating and intimidating.
The levels of realism (as is often the case with Asian horror) are exceptional. At no point do you feel as though the people before you are acting. And with the first half of the film being more of a documentary than a feature film, it’s easy to forget what you are watching altogether – putting you in a position of uncertainty and discomfort throughout.
Audition is nasty, and is sure to have a lasting effect on you, but not for the reasons that I was expecting.
It’s not about gore, and it’s not about jumps and scares. What is guaranteed to freak you out is the motives, the what ifs and the hideous reality of it all.
Although I’ll probably be criticised for making the comparison with Fatal Attraction, I can’t help but think that they are essentially the same tale. But with Audition having the complexity that the Hollywood film lacked, while at the same time being simple enough to not lose the viewer.
If you want a creepy, unnerving night in, this is hard to beat. And if you’re a man, this is a surefire way to make you feel quite satisfied with the woman that you’re with and probably put you off ever feeling the need to ‘play the field’ again.
Audition is out now as part of an amazing Asian Horror box-set (along with Dark Water and The Eye) released by Palisades Tartan.
Additional film information: Ôdishon (1999)