Movie: Audition (Ôdishon)
By: Maniac E
Date: October 19, 2011
Critically acclaimed yet highly misunderstood, Audition (1999) is arguably Takashi Miike’s most brilliant film. Based on Ryu Murakami’s book of the same name, it has been referred to variously as social commentary, horror, and even torture porn. Miike insists the film defies genre, his main motivation in filmmaking being to provoke the viewer into questioning his/her own feelings. Exemplifying the extreme reactions that develop out of the conflict between disengagement with people and surroundings and the need to belong to someone or someplace, Miike’s morally ambiguous protagonists in Audition relate a dark tale of emotional insecurity, guilt, and fear-driven obsession culminating in an unforgettable portrayal of violence.
Ryo Ishibashi plays Aoyama Shigeharu, a middle aged widower who owns a video production company. After several years of being alone, he decides to try dating again, but doesn’t know where to begin. His best friend, Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), suggests he interview perspective brides in the guise of a film audition. Aoyama’s stereotyped qualities of the perfect woman are ridiculously high but he seems to have found a candidate in former dancer turned actress, Yamazaki Asami (Eihi Shiina) Ever so slowly we watch the pair’s relationship develop. In interviews Miike has admitted he deliberately set out to lull the viewer nearly to boredom during the first half of the movie. Even lighting and pale colors combined with steady, symmetrically framed camera shots suggest balance and a sense of wellbeing, all of which is a clever set-up designed to intensify the discomfort and shock of the second half.
Yoshikawa has some misgivings about Asami, prompting him to conduct a background check. Apparently most of the information Asami has provided is either false or unverifiable, all of which he confides to Aoyama. In spite of his friend’s warnings, Aoyama continues to see Asami, quickly becoming consumed by sexual obsession and guilt over what he sees as betrayal of his dead wife. The melodramatic tone begins to flicker uncertainly during the first of two dream sequences that open a doorway into the dark interiors Asami and Aoyama’s psyches, while posing as many questions about the reality of each character’s experiences and motivations as they answer.
Unfortunately the film's ingenuity is often ignored due to its violent content, and as a consequence Audition is stuck in a double bind of sorts, too violent for serious movie goers and too intellectually challenging for gore fans. This is probably a gross generalization of its audience, but the fact that people constantly bicker about its "boring" start and it's violent ending, while very little attention is paid to the thematic elements of the narrative, seems to suggest that this film has largely been misinterpreted in what it actually set out to achieve. Audition does not simply aim to comment on the state of relationships between men and women, it also aims to challenge our perception of film genre by playing around with conventions to such an effect that it deliberately shocks and destabilizes its audience. Ultimately, this is what makes Audition such a challenging movie.
We as an audience have become so accustomed to the lazy generic categorizations of movies that when we see a love story we want a romance, and when we see horror we want gore. Finding the two mixed up challenges our expectations and demystifies the notion that everything about a film can be summarized by the one genre it's meant to fit into. I hate using the word post-modern, but this is what ultimately what this film is, since it's very conscious of the conventions it plays with. Furthermore, this is not simply a case of romance mixing with horror, but also with realism mixing with extended metaphors, and the latter eventually taking over the narrative completely - it's very rare that this sort of thing happens in film, but needless to say it only adds to the clever originality on display here.
If you have any familiarity with Miike's work then Audition should be fairly high on your one to watch list. To anyone else, I'd say approach it with an open mind. Don't come to the film expecting a routine horror story, as the film moves freely between scenes of straight drama, surreal menace and moments of broader black comedy. Like most of the director's work it can be described as outrageous, but regardless, try above all else to empathize with the central characters (both of them) to better appreciate the underlining message of this great and continually misunderstood film.
Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki
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