Audition
review by Gregory Avery, 14 September 2001

"You look listless," says the teenaged son of the protagonist in Takashi Miike's grisly thriller, Audition. His father, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), has been a widower for seven years, and now he decides that he would like to remarry, maybe to a nice, quiet, well-mannered girl, essentially obedient in the classic Nippon tradition, but someone whom he could talk to and feel comfortable around. How to go about finding her?

Aoyama runs a media production company in Tokyo, and a friend of his, a producer, suggests that they hold an open-call audition for young women to come in and try out for a motion picture part that would fall within the perimeters of the type of girl that Aoyama is looking for. The movie may or may not be made, but there would be plenty of applicants whom Aoyama could look at and decide whether he would like to get in contact with later on. As the hopefuls file in and out of a wide, bright room, with the two men seated behind a table on one end, the producer asks them questions about their likes and dislikes, while Aoyama either regards them quietly or feels vaguely uncomfortable about the whole business. He becomes enchanted, though, with one girl, Asami (Eihi Shiina), who has exquisite long, dark hair and a strange look about her eyes. She trained as a child to become a classical dancer, but an injury put an end to all that. Aoyama sees her a couple of times, but then she disappears, and as he tries to track her down and find out what became of her, he ends up visiting the sites of some of the most darkest experiences in Asami's past, and then, oh, my goodness.

As you may have heard, Audition has already been much talked about for some very nasty business, indeed, which is perpetrated at the end of the picture by the seemingly sweet but very methodical Asami (and persons who think they might be having a look at the film, which is scheduled to open around the U.S. between now and the end of November, may want to stop here and come back, as I will be delving into aspects regarding the climatic scenes of the film). That doesn't occur until the last half-hour of the film, but one can see how it would definitely overshadow everything that comes before it in most audience's recollections. Up until then, the first hour and a half of Audition is a fairly well-made suspense piece, also unfolding methodically, showing the well-intentioned Aoyama becoming pulled inexorably into territory that he turns out to be totally unprepared for and where he is on increasingly uncertain ground. Asami turns out to be the ultimate dating nightmare -- but whose? Beneath the surface, she is scheming, vicious, cold-hearted, sadistic...but she's also supposed to be the product of an upbringing where she was severely victimized and abused. (and she gets her own back on her tormentors, big time). She could represent a man's worst fears about women, but Aoyama is not a misogynist, and he is not shown either hating or fearing women to any inordinate extent. In fact, he is polite to a fault and respectful, right up to and including (and after) when he and Asami go to bed together (she ends up practically pulling him in with her, after getting into bed herself). That would mean that Asami is simply a twisted little creature who is running loose in the world, and Aoyama is someone who just happened to get in her path.

While I'm not adverse to films that end up boiling down to simply trying to deliver a few good, healthy jolts to the system, the horridness of what Asami does to Aoyama mitigates whatever one could come up with to justify it (it involves a paralysing drug, long needles, and wire). "It's time to cut off your right feet," Shiina's Asami says cheerily, pursing her lips while I imagined people flying up the aisles to the exits. And that's not all: the filmmakers, who have been juggling (somewhat cleverly) the dramaturgy during the second hour, leave things open as to whether everything we have been watching during that time may actually be a premonition that Aoyama is having, while he's still relatively unscathed and before he becomes Asami's victim.

Nonetheless, one has to ask what the movie's real purpose is, and that has to do with Takashi Miike's interest in bizarre violence. He has already said in one interview that he didn't think Audition went far enough, while adding that a forthcoming film of his may be so violent that "it might never make it to the screen". If art can be made out of mayhem, Miike told Travis Campbell in the Village Voice, "we can force the audience to accept the film".

Audience reaction can be highly subjective. Michael Powell's 1959 film, Peeping Tom, is now seen in its proper context and is regarded as a legitimate film about a highly-disturbed individual, but at the time when it first appeared, public reaction was so vituperative, as if it had been slapped on the face hard, that Powell's career as a filmmaker was permanently damaged. A year later, Hitchcock was able to gauge audience reaction to Psycho by means of an elaborate promotional campaign that not only primed audiences as to what to expect, but also generated more interest in seeing the film.

The ante has been upped considerably since then, with such merry romps as Evil Dead Trap and Shinya Tsukamoto's genuinely repellant Tetsuo: The Iron Man (a.k.a. the film in whose opening scene a man shoves a metal rod into his leg for no discernable reason). While I do not advocate censorship -- I don't particularly like The Wild Bunch, but I would fight to the death for Sam Peckinpah's right to make it -- I do believe that people have a right to either accept or reject what a filmmaker tells them, and that eliciting audience reaction is one thing while clubbing them over the head until they're insensate is another. The only aim of Audition ultimately seems to be to create a setup for a payoff that exceeds all possible expectations and comprehension, but when Asami playfully, and deliberately, brushes her hand along the ends of the needles that she has so carefully placed in Aoyama's flesh and I found that I was wincing for no particularly good reason other than the fact that what I was watching was simply abhorrent, then enough was enough.

Directed by:
Takashi Miike

Starring:
Ryo Ishibashi
Eihi Shiina
Jun Kunimura
Tetsu Sawaki

Written by:
Daisuke Tengan

Rated:
NR - Not Rated
This film has not
yet been rated.

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