Audition Review (1999)

by "Penguin" Pete Trbovich on June 26th, 2018 | |

Audition was directed by Takashi Miike and stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina and  Jun Kunimura. It’s about a lonely Japanese widower being set up for a date by his friend, which goes horribly wrong when he meets a psycho.

She always gets a part

Audition Review

Horror fans should be familiar with the works of Japanese director Takashi Miike, even though he doesn’t stick exclusively to the horror genre. Miike specializes in shocking, avant-garde cinema, sort of a Japanese version of David Lynch, whom he claims as inspiration. Takashi Miike never met a taboo he didn’t want to cheerfully shatter.

It’s strange then, that one of his most reserved and down-to-Earth films has the reputation of being one of the most horrifying. Perhaps it’s because this film is so accessible. Miike’s Visitor Q has many times the gore and depravity packed into it, but viewers probably leave that one so battle-scarred from the circus of wanton corruption that they’re beyond words. Audition is Miike toning it down.

The Date From Hell

Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widower who hasn’t quite gotten over the death of his wife seven years ago. His friends and children prod him to get back into the dating scene and get his life back together, but Shigeharu is a shy wallflower when it comes to women. His friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), just happens to be a film producer and concocts a scheme to play Cupid for Shigeharu: He’ll put out a casting call for a film he’s directing, but the role is secretly tailored to be Shigeharu’s ideal mate, while Shigeharu films the auditions and uses them to select a potential date.

So far, we have the set-up for a light-hearted romantic comedy. Can’t you just see somebody like Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in the above scenario, with laughs and love all along the way? Even when our “it girl” Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) enters the scenario and charms Shigeharu’s socks off, we’re still not finding anything to get too nervous about. Sure, after the audition is over, none of the names she left on her resume follow up, and producer Yasuhisa warns that she smells like trouble, but that’s just your typical star-crossed lovers plot.

It isn’t until we get to the scene where Shigeharu phones Asami that Takashi Miike finally tips his hand, showing us that Asami is a dangerously obsessive yandere; on her end, it’s an empty apartment with an ominous body bag in the corner and a telephone, which vigilance she hasn’t left for four days, but she answers breezily like she barely remembered Shigeharu.

Disproportionate Karma

From there, we go right off the deep end into a full-blown mystery. Shigeharu tries to track down clues about Asami and the more he finds out, the darker the story gets. Everywhere he goes in Asami’s wake, he turns up stories of gruesome murders, missing people, horrific mutilations, and scattered body parts. He’ll get his date with Asami all right, but not at all what he was expecting.

We end up with a story in the vein of Fear (1996), Obsessed (2009), and especially Fatal Attraction (1987) – Asami pulls stunts a lot more horrifying than just making rabbit stew. By the way, the original ending was cut from Fatal Attraction because American test audiences were turned off by it, but left intact for Japanese audiences. Tell you something?

The twist is that most psycho-stalker horror stories have the antagonist doing most of the work, while the blameless victim passively suffers their torment. Here, Asami doesn’t stalk Shigeharu so much as wait for him, like a black widow spider in her web. Shigeharu could have dropped the matter at any time without consequence, we feel. Shigeharu is also not entirely blameless, even though the plot was mostly his friend’s idea. A sham audition was conducted where various actresses wasted their time auditioning for a role that didn’t exist, just to help some guy find a date. When you put it that way, Shigeharu sounds like the creepy one. It calls to mind Hollywood horror stories of the casting couch and the #MeToo movement. But Shigeharu’s basically a naive little lamb being led down his pre-determined path here, though he pays the full price anyway.

A Landmark Work

Audition is credited today with paving the way for what we now call the “torture porn” genre, especially the Hostel and Saw franchises. Of course, it wasn’t the trope originator, with earlier examples amounting to little more than snuff films, but Audition popularized the genre in terms of modern horror fiction and touched off a wave of films with similar aesthetics in the 2000s. Unlike many imitators, however, this film brings the story first and winds up the suspense and tension brilliantly. Rather than serving up gore up front, the story starts out innocently and steams ahead to a sucker punch.

As for Takashi Miike, he is tragically unknown and under-appreciated in the Western Hemisphere. His directorial credits extend to over a hundred projects as of this writing. Within the Japanese film industry, he’s won 32 awards and been nominated for 49 more. His influence is tangible in film culture the world over; Quentin Tarantino has called Takashi Miike “one of the world’s greatest living directors.” So just a head’s up, check out some of this guy’s other work, hey? He’s got a lot more going on past a few acupuncture needles.

The Verdict:

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http://www.penguinpetes.com/

Writer, artist, prophet, cult leader. Take good care of my memes. I’ve raised them since they were daydreams.

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