Directed by Takashi Miike
Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina and Renji Ishibashi
Middle-aged widower Shigeharu is encouraged by his concerned son to finally get himself back into the dating scene. Shigeharu, taking his son’s advice, albeit in a somewhat unconventional style, holds mock auditions for a new girlfriend in a manner akin to casting a film, whereupon after various failed “applicants” he meets the enchanting Asami, who Shigeharu finds himself falling over heels in love for. However when Asami mysteriously disappears, Shigeharu soon uncovers various disturbing details about the new love of his life as attempts to find her.
Entering the dating world can often be a fun, interesting and wacky experience, as we have learned from several decades of terrible romantic comedies. However only a select few films tackle the darker side of this experience, and thankfully we have the master of Japanese oddball cinema Takashi Miike to show us this side, creating a truly buttock clenching, nightmare inducing and horrifying experience. I am of course talking about his internationally acclaimed and reviled Audition, a film that will make us all think twice before deciding to sign up to eHarmony.
The film has something of a reputation as being, to put it delicately, fucked up. We have a psychopathic antagonist who has a sack with “something” inside as a demented kind of pet. She also loves to paralyse people with needles to the skull and then slowly cut their limbs off with piano wires, all the while singing creepy little tunes that I guarantee will echo in your nightmares.
That’s just the tip of the crazy, creepy iceberg, with dream sequences that seem to go on for a solid 15 minutes or so, odd misshapen people drinking vomit as if it were a plate of chicken soup, and did I mentioned the creepy little tunes sung by a psychopath brandishing a needle?
So definitely not a film you want to watch with your five-year-old, or anyone who doesn’t want to die of fatal cringing.
The lead performances are solid throughout, with Ryo Ishibashi delivering a sympathetic performance as the mournful Shigeharu, who finds himself much deeper than he intended when he sought to put himself back into the dating pool.
Although we sympathise with Shigeharu to a certain extent he is hardly a saintly character, as is seen by drawing up his specifications, and the very act of holding an audition for his ideal girlfriend coming off as sexist and politically incorrect. However I think the flaws are what makes the character more captivating – it simply wouldn’t be interesting if he was depicted as this saintly figure with no vices whatsoever. If he was he would be about as realistic as a sentient bathmat and about as interesting to watch.
Of course, the film belongs to Eihi Shiina as Asami, one of the greatest and most criminally underrated villains of horror cinema. I’m not kidding when I describe her as such; Shiina creates a character that will initially somewhat mysterious appears to be fairly charming and likeable, and it’s only when we start to see her home life that alarm bells start ringing, with the character becoming increasingly unsettling as time passes.
Although the character is ultimately revealed as a sadistic psychopath, the film does attempt to humanise her to an extent, by viewing her actions as a twisted form of retribution against a tragic childhood beset with abuse, which makes the character more complex than a standard horror psycho. Although, I honestly didn’t spend much time thinking about the complexities of the character, mainly because I was too busy crapping myself as she decides that a piano wire would look better wrapped around, and eventually sliced through, someone’s foot. All the while she sings those creepy little tunes to us.
Audition is yet more proof that no matter how hard Hollywood might try to make a film that makes you queasy and unsettled, Japan will blow them out of the water every time. With a truly terrifying lead performance, an intriguing story that gradually becomes darker and more surreal as it progresses and uncomfortable moments that will have you clenching your, teeth and butt cheeks so hard, you’ll probably need to see a doctor afterwards.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★