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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Audition  



 

Audition

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Japanese Title: Odishon
Director: Miike Takashi
Writing Credits: Murakami Ryu (Novel), Tengan Daisuke (Screenplay)
Cast: Ishibashi Ryo, Shiina Eihi, Sawaki Tetsu, Kunimura Jun
Genre: Horror Drama
Year Released: 1999
Runtime: 115 min
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) (Feel free to add one star if you’re amenable to violence)

Audition starts out innocently enough. Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) has lost his wife to illness seven years ago, and under his son Shigehiko’s (Tetsu Sawaki) encouragement, he decides to seek out a suitable woman to remarry. His friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) helps him set up an audition, under the guise of producing a new movie, to screen potential brides. Aoyama finds himself strangely attracted to one of the applicants, Asami (Eihi Shiina), and despite Yoshikawa’s advice, decides to court her. However, Asami disappears after a night of passion, and Aoyama tries to track her down. He finds out that the people connected to Asami’s past are either missing, demented, murdered or mutilated, and when he finally finds her (actually, she finds him), he also finds himself in a very, very, very bad situation.

Audition is a well acted movie, and almost the whole cast is rather convincing, even the supporting actresses who barely have ten minutes of screen time carry off their roles well. However, the most impressive performance is from Eihi Shiina, whose tranquil exterior belies her extremely psychotic intentions. A femme fatale with a killer toolkit (comprising long acupuncture needles, syringes and a piano wire), Eihi’s Asami manages to commit shocking acts of violence while looking completely impassive throughout the whole movie. No one will manage to forget the way she says "kiri kiri kiri" (Japanese for "deeper deeper deeper") while wielding her needles, and even though (practically) no one can identify with or condone her truly sadistic acts, director Takashi Miike does set up several flashback sequences to explain her dark side. Ryo Ishibashi is also credible as the good-natured (and some would say gullible) leading man, and the audience can truly feel his pain in the latter half of the film.

Takashi Miike is masterful in his handling of the film, and milks the audience’s emotions for all they’re worth. The first half of Audition is light and breezy, humourous and comedic, completely throwing the audience off the scent of the truly dark and deeply unsettling second half. Any sense of security or comfort is quickly lost once Aoyama begins his search for Asami, and several scenes are truly reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s work. A particularly chilling scene depicts Asami sitting motionless in her living room, waiting for Aoyama to call her, and culminating in a "surprise" scene that made more than a few audience members scream out loud. Takashi Miike also exploits the "it was all a dream" denouement, and turns the audience’s expectations upside down once again in the last few minutes.

Audition could have been a fantastic show, but my appreciation of the movie was largely muted after the horrific final 20 minutes. Takashi Miike commented that the reason for the copious amount of violence was that "The desire that everybody would live in peace is an illusion. The yearning for violence is very honest. Allowing this to come out is much healthier than trying to suppress it. In my films, people are like monsters or beasts. Their violence is extreme but at least honest." I do agree with the fact that not everyone would live in peace, but I feel that Takashi has tried too hard to make his point in Audition. The denouement goes on for way too long, and the way Takashi’s camera lingers on every sadistic act of violence seems to almost suggest that he likes what he sees. To describe the final act in two words, I would choose "interminable" and "excessive". I was truly surprised to see that only two people walked out of the theatre, but perhaps it was because the rest were too scared to move (Supposedly, in the Seattle Film Fest, audience members scrambled to get out of the theatre, shouting "Let me out!").

Audition is a truly successful horror movie, and unflinchingly portrays typically taboo scenes in traditional Hollywood cinema. Sadako in The Ring? Peanuts when compared to Asami. Gory scenes in The Cell? Audition is ten times worse. Unsettling sequences in The Exorcist? Audition ups the ante. Audition is probably a horror masterpiece, but due to the excessive violence, I simply cannot find the stomach to recommend this film to any sane moviegoer. However, Audition is a movie that will linger for an inordinate amount of time in my mind, and anyone who watches this movie will never look at acupuncture needles, piano wire or Japanese women the same way ever again. "kiri kiri kiri…"

Final Word: Unsettling. Incredibly unsettling. Violent. Incredibly violent. Not for the weak-of-heart or the squeamish. Nightmarish but brilliant in its own demented way.