Directed by Takashi Miike.
Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki and Jun Kunimura.
A widower holds auditions to find a new love, only the woman he chooses isn’t quite what she appears to be.
If you’ve yet to see Takashi Miike’s 1999 movie Audition then you can be damn sure you’ve heard about it somewhere down the line. This is because Audition is one of the landmark horror movies of Asian cinema, cementing Miike’s reputation as a genre filmmaker of note and displaying a level of violence and terror that western cinema was yet to embrace on a mainstream level.
Having been made a widower after his wife dies of an illness, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi – The Grudge) is left to raise their young son Shigehiko. A few years later the now teenage Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki – Hush!) is encouraging his father to remarry because he thinks his dad looks worn out so Aoyama and his friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura – Kill Bill) devise a plan to hold auditions for a fake movie in the hope of weeding out a possible girlfriend for the lonely widower. And then Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina – Tokyo Gore Police) walks into the room and Aoyama is immediately smitten with the pretty but quiet young woman. Aoyama makes further contact with Asami and the pair embark on a romance, although once Aoyama begins to dig a little deeper he discovers that Asami might not be the person she says she is, but is it too late for him to walk away?
What gives Audition its reputation isn’t scene after scene of blood and gore as you would expect but rather the sense of escalation leading to total insanity that the characters go through. The film is very much a slow-burner and Takashi Miike takes his sweet time letting us get to know his characters before introducing us to Asami’s real nature about two-thirds of the way through, although he does drop a few hints along the way, such as the slightly disturbing scene of Asami sitting alone on the floor of her apartment waiting for Aoyama’s phone call, a twisted smile forming across her face once the telephone starts to ring.
Of course, once we get to the crucial turning point in the film then all bets are off as Asami shows her true colours, inflicting pain on Aoyama in some of the most unsettling scenes of violence committed to film. Like previously stated, Audition is no bloodbath but having spent so much time building up the well-meaning Aoyama into a character that we like spending time with- despite the fact he auditioned women under false pretences he’s still just a lonely man looking for love – then Takashi Miike’s expertly crafted horror – it may not be about ghosts or mythical creatures and despite what Miike himself would say, this is horror – is as satisfying to sit through as something that hits the ground running thanks to strong scriptwriting and natural performances that keep you engrossed despite the soap opera nature of the story in the first two acts.
Arrow Video’s 2K restoration looks fantastic, the rich colours and textures making it worth the upgrade from your old DVD copy. For extras you get audio commentaries from director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan plus a brand new commentary from Miike biographer Tom Mes, a new interview with Takashi Miike, cast interviews and an appreciation of the film by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns, so there’s plenty to get stuck into and the dual format release also comes in a rather fetching Steelbook, just to up the collectability. A huge inspiration for the torture porn genre that followed it in the 2000’s, Audition still has an aura about it despite it being 17 years old and as an introduction to Japanese cinema it’s probably the best place to start, and if it’s a revisit then it still retains the power to shock. Either way, this excellent edition of a fantastic film is worth shelling out for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★