AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT STEELBOOK AND BLU-RAY: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 115 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Shigeharu Aoyama, a middle-aged widower of seven years, is urged by his 17-year-old son, Shigehiko, to begin dating again. Aoyama’s friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, a film producer, devises a mock casting audition in which young women audition for the “part” of Aoyama’s new wife. Shigeharu agrees to the plan and, after interviewing lots of women, is immediately enchanted by the mysterious Asami Yamazaki. Yasuhisa develops misgivings about Asami after he is unable to reach any of the references on her résumé, such as a music producer she claimed to work for, who is missing, but Shigehiko is so enthralled by her that he pursues her anyway….
Now here’s a strange thing. Prior to viewing the film on Arrow’s new Blu-ray release, I’d seen Audition only once before, about fifteen years ago, late on TV, and, while I do remembering enjoying it [if ‘enjoy’ is the right word – maybe ‘impressed’ is the right term], I wasn’t enraptured by the film enough to go out and buy it, nor had I remembered much about it when I watched it again the other evening. I’m aware that what I’ve said may be a totally bizarre, unfathomable thing for any fans of the film who are reading this review, and my first experience with Takashi Miike’s film is undoubtedy a lot different to those of most other people who are both stunned by, and thoroughly disturbed and shocked [Rob Zombie said it was the most creepy and unsettling film he’d ever seen] by it. Having now seen it again, I now proclaim that Audition is a near masterpiece and easily the best film that I’ve seen from the prolific Miike, who seemed to take so much more care over this one that it really seems to be in a class of its own. It’s a superb exercise is working up the viewer that several times makes him or her re-access what they’ve been watching, and a great slow burn suspenser that erupts into an orgy of both nastiness and sheer cinematic bravura that puts stuff like Hostel and Saw to shame because you’re emotionally invested in both torturer and tortured [I can’t believe that I’m typing these words, but I am] in different ways, while providing much pointed social comment on gender relation and in particular misogyny and the treatment of women. There’s so much going on in this movie, so many layers, that I wonder if it actually was Audition that I saw those fifteen years ago.
Audition was actually a Japanese-Korean production, a follow-up to Ring: Virus, which was made because Ring had suffered the fate of many Japanese movies and not been released in Korea due to a ban on Japanese imports. Miike was hired as director because he was cheap and not at all knonw for horror or extreme cinema at the time. Screen writer Daisuke Tengan adapted Ryu Murakami’s novel for the screen, with alterations by Miike that, while the book’s story was closely followed, changed the emphasis somewhat, making Asami more sympathetic from the outset, less explicitlly foreshadowing the final act, and making some details less obvious and revealing much in a more expressionistic manner. Actress Eihi Shiina was a former model but she got so ‘into’ the part that she insisted that her actual vomit be fed to her character’s prisoner on set. Miike actually wanted to end the film at the onset of the torture scene that the film is now famous for, but one of the producers told him to: “be a man and see it through to the end.” The film became a major Asian hit and, like most game-changing horror films worth their salt, quickly rose to infamy amid reports of hysterical receptions at film festivals, including Miike being verbally attacked, people passing out, and record numbers of walkouts. The original US version cut the most explicit shots for an ‘R’ rating. In 2014, a remake was announced, but thankfully we haven’t heard anything about it since.
The film’s first shot is of a cake with dinosaurs on it, an incredibly odd choice I thought. The cake is being carried by a young boy called Shigehiko, who is visiting his mother in hospital. She’s dying of some disease, and her husband Shigeharu is with her when it happens, but their son is too late. “ I bought this for mum” he says as he enters her room, and to be honest I felt like crying there and then, so well executed in its understated manner is the scene. We cut to seven years later, and Shigeharu is a lonely shell of a man, immersed in his work. He doesn’t even show any emotion when his secretary tells him she’s getting married. There’s a moment where she intently looks at him as he walks away, signalling that perhaps she feels something for him, though it’s easy to miss if you’re not concentrating on the film. Watching it with a more critical and focused eye, it’s just amazing how many little details are in the picture, and how, come the end, how all of them in some way wind up being important in some way. Anyway, the now teenage Shigehiko thinks his father ought to get married again, and Shigeharu agrees. We feel so much sympathy for this guy that it’s hard to be too bothered by the rather sexist plan his friend thinks up to get him a new wife. The montage of mock auditions is a pretty humorous sequence that in other films of a generally very serious edge may seem out of place but feels like an organic part of this one. After all, there’s also a bit of sadness and a bit of cruelty in the increasingly odd questions and answers we hear. And maybe it’s more Asami who is auditioning Shigeharu?
It’s not long before Shigeharu finds the women he wants, though he’s already seen her face when coffee falls on the interview letter she’d sent in. To probably anyone watching the film, there’s something wrong about Asami immediately, but Shigeharu’s instantly besotted by her fragility and what seems like her honesty, and is soon in the grip of an amour fou. He begins a gradual relationship with her, and I suppose some first time viewers may be wondering where the horror is, though I was quietly gripped by the unsettling atmosphere, highly reminiscent of that of Ring, that gets stronger and stronger. I thought that Miike had made a mistake in showing Asami sitting in an empty room with just a phone and a large bag, the shots breaking the point of view that we’ve chiefly had up to now, but then Hitchcock always preferred suspense over surprise, and we then get a scare that totally knocked the stuffing out of me, yet simply consisting of the bag moving in the background. To all those horror directors today who think that jump scare after jump scare with screeching strings and loud musical BANGS IS the order of the day…THIS is how you do it, with a gradual, quiet [all you here is some barely detectable ambient noise] build-up, then the shock itself which doesn’t always need a musical sting, then nothing similar happening afterwards for a while so the effect of the shock is still felt for some time. Put it this way. Up to this scene, I felt uneasy for Shigehura. After it, I felt terrified for him.
I try to keep my reviews within a certain length for the most part, at least these days, partly because I do feel that less is often more when reading a review of a film, but Audition is a movie I could probably go on and talk about for ages, so strong an effect did it have on me, while I feel that it’s the type of movie that virtually defines this website, what all of us who write for it share a love for above all else. Rest assured, I won’t give away all of the story, and certainly not every detail, but I reckon that any reader will probably know that Audition turns extremely nasty and harrowing in its final quarter, and finishes with a lengthy torture scene. Interestingly, it cuts away from some of the most horrific detail [though it still shows plenty], the reason it’s so totally and utterly disturbing being because of the previous few minutes which has shown us some of Asami’s background and provided some reason as to why she is the way she is. It’s also revealed a few things about Shigeharu which make us change our opinion of him somewhat. Therefore, you both sympathise with, and dislike, both characters in the climactic scenes at the same time, and the level of involvement for the viewer is highly complex. For me, the highpoint of the film is not: “Kiri, Kiri, Kiri”, though if you’re new to this film you probably won’t get that word out of your head. It’s a brilliantly put together and almost mind blowing montage near the end that mixes past and present, often in the same scene, including material chronologically from earlier in the story but which we only now have the pleasure of seeing, and even alternate footage of earlier moments, it also providing a great deal of information in a way that is far more interesting than somebody chatting for ages. It really is fantastic stuff where editor Yasushi Shimamura deserves just as much credit as Miike.
In fact, if you’re not paying very close attention, Audition can get quite confusing, and even I groaned at what appeared to be a cliched “It was all a dream” ending, not to mention a silly rescue moment, but in both cases the movie falls back on itself and gets us to try to interpret what is going on. I’m not going to go too much into this, but it seems to be that we are partly watching a man realising that his attitude and treatment of the fairer sex has been wrong [I certainly don’t think that this movie fears or objectifies women – in fact, it’s a criticism of the latter], and are being made to feel his guilt. Like some of the great surrealist films, it’s not so much what is happening that is important, it’s why it’s happening, the meanings behind what we are seeing. After all, this film, sometimes slightly annoyingly, tends to suggest weird pathways which it could go down throughout. Take the scene where Shigeharu almost appears to be psychic [in fact there are several moments which imply this] when he’s told about a killing and an extra three fingers, ear and tongue which were found but didn’t belong to the same body….and he actually sees the body parts on the floor in front of him.
Supposedly Miike has said that all he really wanted to do was to scare people with Audition, but I don’t that this really negates any possible deeper meanings which can be found. In any case, he directs the film with a perfect hand throughout, managing the changes in pace brilliantly, and setting up many scenes in clever and differing ways which almost subliminally effect the viewer. The interview with Asami, where you would expect we would adopt the viewpoint of Shigeharu and Yasuhisa, instead spends much more time from the point of view of Asami, even though we’ve only just met her. The filming style tends to focus on long takes, but hand held camera work sometimes crops up at appropriate moments, Dutch angles and jump cuts are also sometimes used, it all combining to create an impression that is properly disorientating without being jarring. Colour is well utilised throughout, from the blue of the room where the couple have sex, to the brownish yellow of a dilapidated ballet school to, best of all, the bright red shining in several restaurant scenes. Miike tends to churn films out very quickly, which means that his work can be somewhat sloppy, but it seems that he thought through every aspect, even every shot, of Audition very carefully.
Eihi Shina is simply mesmerising as Asami, and makes you feel nervous even when she seems to be happy. However, I think that Ryo Ishibashi has the more difficult and more complex role, and he pulls it off brilliantly, oozing class and world weariness with just a hint of darkness which you don’t really notice until towards the end and you think back on the previous three quarters, and convincingly depicting obsessive love without histrionics. Kôji Endô ‘s score is mostly relegated to one rather haunting melody played in different guises, and sometimes as source music. It’s very subtle, which works wonders.Though I certainly didn’t dislike Audition the first time round, I really don’t know what I was thinking then [maybe I was of unsound mind], because it’s no exaggeration to say that the movie totally blew me away on this instance, something it normally does to folk on a first viewing, and I reckon that, if you have yet to see it, it’ll do it to you first time round too. It’s a stunning piece of viewer manipulation worthy of the best of Hitchcock, a truly chilling horror movie that can get under the skin like few others and which totally deserves its reputation, and an incisive look at human behaviour and emotion too which actually has a great deal of compassion underneath all its pain and nastiness.
I can’t compare Arrow’s Blu-ray of Audition to the earlier Tartan Asia Extreme release, but this much-released film has probably never looked better, though I will say that some outdoor shots are a bit grainier than we have come to expect from Blu-ray. I like grain myself, as it helps to remind me that I’m watching something which originated on celluloid rather than something digital, but two or three shots are perhaps slightly fuzzier than the norm. It’s not a major problem though and is no doubt due to the source materials. The majority of the movie looks fine, while the selection of special features ensures even more that this is a significant ungrade from previous Region ‘B’ versions of the film. They mainly duplicate the extensive Region ‘A’ Shout Factory package but add a Miike interview and a second commentary by Miike expert Tom Mes to add to the one from Miike and Tengan. As usual, I listened to twenty minutes of both. They both seem to be very laid-back – Miike appears to be a very shy chap, as is also evidenced by his interview and his optional introduction to the film – but are enjoyable nonetheless and deepen one’s appreciation [as if it would probably be necessary] for Audition. I watched the interview with Eihi Shiina which is very interesting indeed. I should note that some of the special features seemed to be in the wrong ration on my copy – the image is somewhat squeezed – though most viewers should be able to adjust the picture on their TV.
Audition is simply essential viewing and this release is simply an essential purchase.
*Brand new 2K restoriation 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