Shineharu has been a widower for many years whose son mentions he looks old. He devises a plan with a friend to hold a fake audition to find a new wife. The woman he finds has a tortured past and this leads to a horrendous conclusion.
Takashi Miike’s Audition is a movie everyone reading CHUD should be familiar with. It tells the story of a widowed father who sets out to find a new wife with the encouragement of his son. He finds this woman through a fake audition for a movie and instantly falls in love. It is unfortunate because it becomes the worst decision he ever made in his life. Audition is a character drama disguised as a horror movie. The biggest downfall to discovering this movie for the first time is already knowing it is a horror film, spoiling the entire twist the movie takes in its third act. It is also a movie that has been accused of being both a paranoid misogynistic nightmare and a feminist allegory. While both accusations have merit, I see it more as a Lynchian nightmare, a Grand Guignol that may or may not have actually happened.
The people who argue the film is misogynistic only need point to the fact a man looking for love is tortured and abused by the woman he falls for. When the film starts, Aoyama (Ryô Ishibashi) is sitting by his wife’s hospital bed as she dies. He looks up and watches his son in the doorway, holding a gift he made for his mother. The two leave together and at once we are behind this man. We cut to the future where the two are fishing together and his son makes an offhand comment about his father looking old and suggest it is time to find a new wife.
The manner in which he goes about choosing his wife adds to the accusations against the film. His friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) recommends the two of them hold auditions for an old script they know will never get made. From this audition, Aoyama will have thirty women to choose from. He discovers a young woman named Asami (Eihi Shiina) that he falls in love with and the two pick up a quick friendship. He admits on two occasions in the film the manner in choosing a woman feels wrong but when he falls in love with Asami, he decides it all might be worth it. When she turns on him at the end, because she realizes he will not only love her, but also his son, his dog and the memory of his late wife, she becomes a nightmare for everyone involved. It is clear there is something deeply wrong with this woman and since Aoyama is only shown to be a good man, it makes the woman in the film seem like the ultimate evil.
However, there is also a large contingent that sees the film as a feminist allegory. Yes, Aoyama is a good man and he realizes the manner they are choosing his eventual wife is wrong but he does it anyway. There is a scene where he has drinks with Yoshikawa and the two of them witness a group of professional women laughing in the bar, having a good time. Both men, elders of the “old Japan”, find this distasteful and even make the comment “Japan is finished” because there are good women remaining. It is an old way of thinking that proves time has passed this man by.
A perfect example of how Aoyama continues to dig his grave is during the audition. Yoshikawa does most the talking but asks these women extremely personal questions and has them humiliate themselves all in the name of a film that will never be made. Miike spends a large amount of time on this scene, allowing these men to demean the women to great extent. We also learn that Asami has a tortured past, proving Aoyama’s manipulation of the relationship can only have a bad ending.
I can see both these arguments but I came out of the film with the feeling everything that happens from the night of the proposal on is all a dream, a nightmare of David Lynch proportions. The night he is going to propose to her, she shows him scars on her legs and the two sleep together. He wakes up and she is gone leading him to search for clues to where she might be, or who she even is. He has never been to her home and has no knowledge of her outside of their dates. He finds clues that reveal she might be dangerous and then the entire movie spirals out of control.
I argue the only part of the movie that is real after the two go to sleep is when he wakes up and she is still there. When he falls asleep again, his nightmare continues. My reasons are that the things he discovers, such as the body in the bag, are things he never had a way of knowing about. He didn’t know where she lived, had never been there, and therefore had no idea there was a bag in her apartment. These things stick in my head and make me believe the movie is about repressed sexuality and fear of commitment years after his wife died. Her calmness when she is attacking him, the precision of her torture, and the strange camera angles used by Miike tell me this is not what is seems to be.
Miike shot the movie in a way that allows the characters to tell the story and repeat viewings help pay off the experience. When the two meet at the restaurant for their first date the scene is shot in a very strange, awkward way. Part of the reason is Miike wants the awkwardness of the situation to be paid off through the camera work. Another more important reason is the entire scene is shot in two different ways. When the camera is on Aoyama it is always shot from Asami’s point of view, straight on with Aoyama looking into the camera. It is a way to show he is the focus of attention, the person in the scene being examined. It is only a point of view shot when it is what Asami is looking at, an important distinction.
Miike also shot much of the movie in long single shots. One example is when Aoyama is talking to Yoshikawa in the bar. Much of the scene is shot in the omnipresent point of view, casually observing the two speaking from across the room, while the world goes on around them. The changes come when the horror begins and all the camera work becomes jittery, quickly cutting away and showing everything from skewed angles.
I came out Audition amazed at the skill and talent of the filmmaker on display. Miike created a horror movie that is not a typical horror film. This is a movie with a lot more under the hood than you would expect upon a first viewing. Filmmakers like Eli Roth call Miike an influence on their careers but movies like Hostel are nowhere near as brilliant as a Miike film. Hostel cares more about showing gore and making you uneasy with visceral gore. Miike never cares about the gore. You feel uneasy because of what came before, when a lonely man met a troubled girl. This is not a movie meant to repulse you but instead make you think. It is what you don’t see that frightens you, making it one of the most brilliant horror movies of our generation.
There are 2 discs in this edition, a Blu-Ray and a DVD. Each disc has different features on it, so not everything is in high def. The Blu-Ray starts off with an introduction by both Takashi Miike and actress Eihi Shiina. Miike explains that you may regret watching it and hopes Japanese movies will be more interesting in the future. Shiina says she believes this movie will make men scared of women.
This Blu-Ray also includes a brand new commentary track with Takashi Miike and Daisuke Tengan recorded in Tokyo in May 2009. The track is in Japanese with subtitles. There is a narrator that asks the two men questions, carrying on a comfortable conversation throughout the film’s running time. They start off mentioning when Time Magazine called Audition one of the scariest movies ever, alongside such luminaries as Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Bambi. Miike answers that he didn’t make the movie to be successful overseas but only to make the best movie he could, while staying under budget. He compares himself to Yôjirô Takita and the 2009 Oscar winning foreign language movie Departures, saying no one will probably understand what he is talking about. He then admits to have been drinking a lot lately, setting the tone for the entire track. It’s a great track that drifts in and out of talk about Audition and talk about filmmaking in general. Towards the end, they question what kind of person would listen to this commentary, outside of Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino.
The second disc, strangely a DVD and not a Blu-Ray, has almost an hour of interviews with the cast and both the International and Japanese trailers. The special features are closed out with a booklet including an essay by Tom Mes.