Release date: May 7, 2002
Director: Takashi Miike
Toshie Negishi and
Audition centers around widower Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who 7 years after his wife’s death, is still alone with his only son, but not exactly grieving. After being convinced by his son, Aoyama goes back into the dating game, and turns to friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), a movie producer, for help. Yoshikawa recommends that Aoyama sit in on one of his movie auditions and “choose” (from the auditioning women) the one he wants to date. Aoyama, aware of his middle-age status, eventually agrees.
In the audition, Aoyama immediately falls for 21-year old Asami (Eihi Shiina), who describes herself as shy and a “good girl.” Yoshikawa isn’t convinced, and is suspicious of Asami, but Aoyama will not be talked out of his love at first sight bug. After a couple of dates with the loner Asami, Aoyama actually is considering proposing marriage. But as Yoshikawa warned, Asami is not who she claims to be, and inside that attractive young woman is a very disturbed person with homicidal tendencies and a fondness for metal garrote wires
To say that Japanese films are known for being extremely slow-paced, and as a result “too Japanese”, is not a slam on the Japanese film making. Actually it’s a compliment to the Japanese that they are capable of not only being satisfied with watching things slowly progress to an eventual ending — even if said climax is a “minor” one at best — but also that they enjoy the experience of “getting there”. Movies, as they say, are the windows to a society.
Takashi Miike’s Audition is a Psychological Horror/Suspense Thriller, of course you wouldn't know that by only watching the first hour of the movie. There is exactly one scene in that entire hour that adds some measure of “suspense” to the film — it comes about halfway through and involves a large bundle inside a knapsack. The rest of the movie plays out as if it were a standard “Japanese drama” which means it moves (when it does) with as much energy as a tortoise trying to beat the rabbit in the race. Actually, Audition can best be described in an allegory to the knapsack: it just sits there like a lump of rock, only to unexpectedly move, giving us hope that there’s something inside besides a rock like we all suspect. Audition is terribly dull in the beginning and middle, and only kicks into gear with the Third Act.
While Miike and writer Daisuke Tengan, working from a novel by Ryu Murakami, does give us a couple of flashes of terrific imageries, those pale in comparison to the extreme boredom of the movie's beginning and middle. Only when the film moves toward wrapping things up does the situations get much better, and the suspense and actual “horror” comes into play.
Miike, as mentioned, shows some flashes of brilliance. The man has a good eye for the camera, and even when the movie refuses to breathe just a little to convince us it’s still alive, Miike’s frame composition is still impressive. Lead Ryo Ishibashi, as the lonely middle-aged widower, does a fabulous job as a decent man who just wants a companion to cure his loneliness. Aoyama’s reluctance to hold an “audition” essentially to pick a potential wife is well handled and believable. Eihi Shiina, who debuted with this movie, is very pretty as the slightly off Asami, and her transformation from peaceful "innocent" young lady to the maniac with a garrote wire is terrifically effective. She is incredibly creepy, but at the same time oddly desirable.
Audition is clearly also something of a social satire. The vision of the Japanese women as docile and subservient are played to excellent effect in the film. Not only does Asami represent (at least outwardly) the perfect Japanese “woman” according to everyone, including Japanese men — she’s pretty, young, respectful, and is a “good girl” in every way — but she’s also grateful that this middle aged guy is showing an interest in her, as if she couldn’t find anyone else. The moviemakers might just be smirking at the man-first, woman-maybe-later culture of modern Japan (which is the exact opposite of how it is in the US).
Audition is a good movie when it finally realizes what it is, which is a psychological horror and puts away the kid gloves. It is a lifeless rock when it tries to play it straight.
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