Audition opens with the lead, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), watching his wife pass away in her hospital bed, and it just gets worse from there. Admittedly, the first hour of the nearly two hour film isn’t terribly disturbing. The inciting incident occurs when Aoyama confides his longing for a partner to his friend; the friend agrees to set up a fake audition, the pretense being that they are looking for a lead actress for a movie, but in reality it is designed so that Aoyama can have statistics and backgrounds on many different women and ultimately take his choosing. The two men enjoy the experience of the numerous desperate women parading in front of them, and when Aoyama finally settles on one, things start to look very bad for him. Very bad, indeed. He eagerly begins his pursuit of Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), a beautiful former ballet dancer who strikes him as both emotionally experienced and wounded, yet optimistic. The audience begins to get little flashes of this young woman’s hidden life, which involves a human-sized burlap sack that contains something living, and several forms of manipulation. Also, the friend character begins to check her references, none of whom can be reached, and warns Aoyama to slow down. Aoyama, blinded by love, fails to heed this advice and continues down a disturbing path of psychological and mental torment at the hands of his “prize,” leading him to a harrowing conclusion. Aoyama says of Yamakazi’s abusive past, “It’s hard to forget about… but someday you’ll feel.. that life is wonderful.” These are the closing words to Takashi Miike’s 1999 gag-inducing film Audition, and I would apply them to the movie, as well.
There are many elements that are quite effective and enjoyable in this film. Unfortunately, they are all undercut when Audition reaches its gruesome conclusion. The acting was very good and naturalistic. The tone (lighting, music, set design, etc.) of the film created an atmosphere that see-sawed between cheerily domestic and sickeningly horrific, and kept the viewer warily rapt. Until the end, the script was quite good, and I love the idea of the predator becoming the prey and the commentary on both the film industry’s treatment of women/actors and the general objectification of women (though Miike denies any deliberate social commentary). I also really enjoyed this movie for the suspense, which uses little flashes of unsettling images pertaining to Yamazaki and her past, starting early in the film. It definitely builds as Yamazki closes in on her prey, and is rather intense without being outright gory. It is the crescendo of the film then that puts it over the edge. At the height of the suspense, Miike releases a whole series of foul and frightening scenes that were just as scary without showing all the wretched detail. We more than find out the answers to the many mysteries introduced earlier in the film, and we are disgusted by them, so that in the final moments of the film we feel as if we have been goaded into wanting to learn the truth of the characters. How do I feel after finishing this movie? Regretful.
Perhaps, this is intentional and meant to mirror the feelings of the main character, yet it all seems a bit trivial considering what the audience has to endure. Some horror mongers among you, and I have many friends who would fall squarely into this category, may love this movie. For my part, it turned my stomach and reminded me of Hostel, but with less nudity. It was suspense leading to torture porn, with a fairly simple plot. I watched this recently, and, though I know the images from Takashi Miike’s Audition will remain with me always, I hope that someday I’ll feel… that life is wonderful again.