Directed by Takashi Miike, 1999
Even though it’s only seven or so years old, Audition is almost a legendary film already. It doesn’t have a mainstream following yet, but it’s the kind of viral movie that one of your friends sees and then says, "Dude, you’ve GOT to see this one Japanese movie! It’s so fucked up! There’s this girl and she’s got this piano wire…"
And they’re right. It is a Japanese movie. It is fucked up. And there is a girl with piano wire. But while I can respect the movie and its place as the international launching point of Takashi Miike’s career, I don’t think it’s as phenomenal a film as people make it out to be. Far from bad, mind you – it beats the viewer pretty hard at times – but like with a lot of movies, I’ve got qualms.
The story is pretty simple: Man loses wife, Man grows old and lonely, Man wants to find a new person for his life, Said new person is a closet psychotic. In the case of Audition this happens to Aoyama, whose producer friend holds an audition for a fake movie just so they can find a woman who fits the bill. Aoyama immediately falls for Asami, a quiet frail girl who reminds him of his dead wife, but who everyone else can tell is a little off. As they begin to date, more of Asami’s mysterious backstory begins to emerge and we see her blossom into the psychotic, wire wielding nightmare that will always be the first thing anyone ever mentions when they’re telling you about Audition.
The story is interesting enough, the problem with the film lies in a lot of its style and narrative structure. Miike takes a pretty barren approach to the film’s aesthetics, which looks and feels like a BBC drama for the majority of the film. It’s not an inherently bad approach, but it’s never very interesting and gives the movie a universally plain tone. Or to put it more bluntly, the movie just looks boring. It’s done this way so that once Miike does break out the grotesque violence and torture it breaks the monotony like a slap in the face – and in some ways it does – but it’s not enough of a WOW! moment to make you forget how glacial the rest of the movie is.
The second major fault is in the narrative. I think Takashi Miike is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today and besides David Cronenberg, is one of the most staunch auteur’s of our generation. Hell, the man makes an average of five films a year, which is a ridiculous workload and yet you can always tell you’re watching a Takashi Miike film. He’s not known for making linear, mainstream films, but films that are intentionally weird, for lack of a better term. Audition happens to be one of his more accessible movies – at least in its first 3/4ths. Once Asami ruffies up Aoyama and we enter his dream world things get a little nutty, and not for the better. It’s at a point in the film where we just want to see it all play out, but instead Miike prolongs the story’s completion even longer simply so we can see some more disturbing imagery. It’s some damned fine disturbing imagery (it’ll put you off hanging out with Asian women with long, black hair for good), and one could appreciate the psychology of it that’s their bag (Aoyama’s dream is his own horrific evaluation of the misogynistic tendencies of his life), but really it just stands in the way of the end of the movie.
The end of the movie, which played straight is probably only 15 minutes long at best, doesn’t fail to deliver on the "so fucked up" promise that your friend makes when they’re telling you about it, but like I said earlier, doesn’t really make up for the rolling plateau of the rest of the film; unless you get off on torture. It’s worth seeing at least once just because if you’re a film buff it will inevitably come up in a conversation at some point and you don’t want to be that one loser who hasn’t seen it, but it’s not the sledgehammer to the face critics and fanboys alike build it up to be.
A good, often times enjoyable, film that unfortunately doesn’t soar high enough to let you forget how standard the rest of it is.