Based on the Japanese novel by the same name (written by Ryu Murakami), Takashi Miikeâs Audition starts off like a romantic comedy. The lead character, and recent widower, Shigeharu (played by Ryo Ishibashi) has finally decided to find a new wife at the bequest of his teenage son. Many of us would just hop on Tinder or Match, but Shigeharu instead stages a fake audition with the help of his film producer friend. The catch is to get a bunch of women to audition for a movie, which will obviously highlight their qualities, and he will then have his pick from all of them.Most of the women are comically bad choices. Some are too plain, others are too odd, while others are beautiful, but clearly only interested in being the next big star and have little time for romance.
Enter then Asami (played by Eihi Shiina).
Shigehaur is immediately drawn to her, despite her quiet and uninterested demeanor. The two do end up dating and that's when things get weird. Increasingly so. The first hint that anything is amiss is a wonderful scene in which Asami is alone on the floor of her apartment. Next to her is a rolled-up burlap sack of “ something." It's human in its form and the audience's mind immediately thinks of a body. That's when the thing jerks violently. It's a wonderful jump scare that got me the first time I saw it.
The rest of Audition is a descent into surrealism and the film finally goes full blown horror. Since a part of those surrealistic undertones is to mess around with the timeline and the audience's perception of what is what real and what isn't, the interpretation of what exactly happened can be a bit fuzzy.
Essentially, Shigeharu inevitably desires to propose to her, but she makes him confess that he will love her and only her. He does. This is not the best idea, because when he begins to dig deeper into her past, he realizes she has cut the legs off the man who has abused her and has potentially killed another man. The deeper he digs the stranger the story becomes.
It concludes with him going unconscious and waking up on his own floor. Asami is there and accuses him of going back on his promise. As a result, she begins to mutilate him in one of the grossest horror scenes. With each kee kee ke kee noise she makes, she pokes him in the eyeball and ultimately cuts off his feet. His son comes home, a scuffle ensues and Asami finally falls down the stairs. While she lays dying, both she and Shigeharu stare at each other and in hat moment something clicks before the screen fades to black.
The movie does well in its intent , which is to disillusion the audience while at the same time raising the level of disgust felt. You should be warned that the first half of the movie does drag considerably and that's something I wish I had known going into it. It truly reads like something that would be released on Valentine's Day. However, it may be that this part of the film is purposeful in transcending the audience into the level of madness it wants.
One can equally hotly debate whether this is all an illusion or if this is all really happening to Shigeharu. The film certainly plays around with structure and a whole critical analysis can be done on this portion alone. Asami has, after all drugged him, and there are moments, like at the hotel, where he slips into a dream. Which then is possibly a dream within a dream. I will not dive too much into this but know that it works well with disengaging the readers so that they come out questioning what it is they just saw.
Moreover, the acting is not only well done by Asami especially does well as letting the audience think that this sweet and innocent girl cannot possibly be capable of such ferocity. That makes it especially alarming when she turns into a downright psychopath. Perhaps though, that's what makes the film works well. Asami is shy and quiet, but within her is the need to be loved and she is still marred by her past abuses. Shigeharu also wants desperately to fill the void left by his wife's passing. Perhaps then that is what the fleeting moment between them is at the end of the movie. A deep understanding of their shared need to not be alone. Oddly enough, it is in that moment they aren't.
One can also look at this film from a feminist perspective. During the first half of the film they objectified all hopefuls and the whole purpose of the audition, after all, is to find Shigehaur a wife; irrespective of what his chosen woman might think. He has an arrogant belief that they will not reject him. Even still the warning signs about Asami where there from the get-go. During one scene in the café, Asami outright tells him about her horrid pass, but because of her youthfulness and his obsession with her, he blatantly doesn't listen. It is also really telling that he is so drawn to her servility and it is that quality that especially delights him. His is a commentary on patriarchal infused intimacy and sexuality all at once. The movie also subverts the male gaze by focusing on Shigehar's quivering flesh during the torture scene. It is now his turn to be vulnerable before another. The use of acupuncture especially immolates male penetration and it is a strange role reversal that becomes both sadistic and intriguing at the same time.
Overall, Audition is one of those obscure movies that you really need to check out. It's weird in its techniques and it's thought provoking enough to initiate strong discourse. If nothing else, the film's stomach-churning nature will keep you from going on any dates in the future.