Audition (1999)

Untitled-1Holy shit balls.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no fan of horror movies. Slasher flicks I can handle. But anything to do with ghosts and spirits and all that jazz, and I’d rather watch White Chicks. Yeah, call me a coward. Audition is none of the above, yet it affects me like a supernatural horror movie would. To call it creepy would be to make the understatement of the year. It is beyond creepy, beyond visceral, beyond acceptance.

Audition plays like Hitchcock’s Psycho, in that it is essentially two separate stories rolled up nicely into one. It begins as a self-contained dramedy, where widower Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) piggybacks a faux audition session, for his friend’s faux movie, in order to find the ideal future wife. I’m not even going to begin discussing the ethical problems of this plan. They encounter all sorts of dames; the quiet, the shy, the boisterous, the stripper. But there is one that catches their attention. Her name is Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). She belongs to the “shy” group, and she’s too sweet and innocent to be taken seriously. Aoyama’s friend instantly gets a bad feeling.

Having browsed her application file and resume beforehand, Aoyama falls head over heels for her. He believes that she is the one whom he should marry, even though she’s only 24. What does age matter when it’s love, right? He asks her out, and they go on a few dates. They even go away together. And then, gradually, not abruptly, the movie spirals headfirst into darkness.

Asami leads Aoyama on a wild goose chase. She disappears without trace–and without contact details–and then reappears at the drop of a hat. Aoyama, driven by his infatuation, tracks down every lead he can find from her resume (former places of work, residences, etc) to try and bring her back into his life. Little does he know how “into” his life she will become.

I compared this movie to Psycho because both their structures are the same. The first act of Audition is written such that it can qualify as a movie on its own. Its story is set up perfectly, and its characters are faced with conflicts deep enough to last a full feature length. Aoyama needs a wife, and his friend is willing to help. The story could then have easily taken the sweet and romantic path, and had Aoyama wed Asami at the end. But no, screenwriter Daisuke Tengan is twisted, and he twists the story a full 180 degrees.

Eihi Shiina, who plays the psychotic torturess, is perfect for the role. I cannot imagine anyone else playing it. I can, however, imagine some Hollywood actress completely stuffing it up in a remake, because let’s face it, Hollywood feels the need to remake every single Japanese horror movie with subpar acting. Here, in the original, Shiina manufactures her voice to create an eerie calm. There is so much sweetness in the way she speaks that something has to be wrong with her. She is too polite, and she’s too easy.

She throws herself at Aoyama at different points throughout the story, and demands that he only love her. No one else. And trust me, when she says “no one else”, she means it.

Takashi Miike, one of Japan’s more prolific directors, takes our head for a spin. His use of music, soundscapes, and strategic handheld shots create the most sublime atmosphere of tension, apprehension, and fear. His genius also lies in the way he withholds information from us. He lets us see certain things–such as a foot being cut off by wire–but shields other, less terrifying, things from us. He lets our minds do the work, playing tricks on our subconscious as we involuntarily piece together what the camera isn’t showing. The result is no more comforting.

What themes are being explored here by Miike? What message does he have for us? Well that all depends on what you want to take away from it. Asami tells us outright that everyone is the same; we are all liars. No one says what they mean, and no one means what they say. Words are empty, and she’s tired of empty words. So perhaps Tengan and Miike are telling us not to lie? Right now, I don’t think it matters. What Asami is trying to teach us is not important. Anything she says will fall on deaf ears anyway. We are too busy collecting our scrambled brains and trying to keep our emotions in check to worry about a thematic response.

Did I enjoy this movie? Thoroughly. Do I know what to make of it? Not at all.

Best Moment | We see the sack on the floor. We don’t know what’s in it. Potatoes? Books? And then suddenly… wham! It moves. There’s a freaking person in there.

Worst Moment | Nope.

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