Shout! Factory // 1999 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // October 16th, 2009
She always gets a part
Now 10 years old, Audition has passed into cinematic folklore as the movie that brought Takashi Miike to the masses. The filmmaker had already been messing with Japanese heads for years, but with Audition he called attention to himself within the Western World and has since its release garnered a huge following outside of his own continent.
Now in time for Halloween, the movie has been granted a 2-disc special edition, enabling fans to rediscover one of the most disturbing exports of all time and newbies to enter a world of cinematic pain that's impossible not to adore.
Having been widowed for seven years, Middle aged Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi, Suicide Club) is convinced to get back on the dating horse by his teenage son and work colleague. After holding auditions for the ideal woman under the false illusion that it's for an upcoming movie, Aoyama meets Asami (Eihi Shiina, Open House) and in their quiet and reserved fashion, they hit it off.
However things start to take a turn for the peculiar when holes are found in Asami's CV, followed by her vanishing without a trace. Still that's nothing to the horrendous events about to unfold as a consequence, and for your sake, I'm not going to spoil them.
I'm going to open my review on a note of warning. I love Audition and so do many others, but if you are of a sensitive disposition or find brutal images and surreal sequences of horror genuinely unpleasant, avoid Miike's film. This isn't a joke or an exaggerated way of suggesting how disturbed the product is, it's me from the bottom of my heart saying that if you're easily upset by movies, then keep clear of this film. Even from the seemingly innocent outset, the movie carries with it a sense of unease, mounting from there on in to a level of horror few films could ever hope to match. Even if you're a diehard horror aficionado, be warned, Audition isn't easy viewing. You might happily be able to stomach the machete wielding chaos of Jason, but that doesn't necessarily mean you won't have your gut turned inside out courtesy of this one. It's a whole different ball game, Miike making his way firmly into your mind before flipping his own patented scare switch and letting all hell go loose in your cranium.
Part of what makes Audition such a superior example of the horror genre is its sheer unpredictability, the tonal switches and psychotic outbreaks of frightening imagery punctuating the plot at masterfully random junctures. If someone was to approach the movie with no prior knowledge, they would likely after the first 40 minutes think they were viewing a slow moving love drama, rather than the freaky ass product of one of the world's premier scare masters. Audition confines itself to no cinematic laws, allowing its creators to royally mess with viewer's minds on the grounds they haven't a clue where the vehicle is headed. Audition not only disobeys every genre convention in the book but also drops in and out of reality with several horrifyingly haunting dream sequences and products of delusion. Miike never lets the audience get a foothold on his directorial style or the film's sly narrative, gifting him the element of surprise along with his already impressive arsenal of horror tricks. Little can create scares and tension like the unpredictable; Audition a venture certainly worthy of that descriptive moniker.
The performances and writing work well together. The opening sequence in which we see Aoyama's wife pass away coupled with Ishibashi's likable performance make him easy to root for, and even in the character's more morally dubious moments such as the actual auditions he still questions his actions and require an external force to push him into it. This solidifies him as a good man and at the outset at least, a sane and logical human being. This expert set-up makes his descent into terror and madness all the more convincing, his accessible acting also allowing audience members to place themselves in his position. Obviously this only goes to make the picture all the more frightening. By relating so clearly with the protagonist it's not hard to put yourself in his weary shoes, not a place anybody wants to be. As the beautiful but instantly unnerving Asami, Shiina is perfect, capturing a sense of innocence and purity whilst always exuding a haunting and ethereal vibe to keep the viewer on edge. However as the film progresses, what starts as removed and socially awkward transforms into sinister and exceedingly shudder worthy, Shiina handling the slow transition with a skill and realism that greatly benefits the films development.
The movie unnerves technically too, Miike's choice of shot usually primed to offer up maximum discomfort for the viewer. Something about his cinematography gifts the movie a feeling of menace that becomes subtly more obvious as the story moves forward, and his choice of visual stimulus is at times mind scarring stuff. Audition is completely disinterested in boo moments or jump scares, instead working its way to a climax that literally reduces you to sweats, a scene as brutal and torturous for the viewer as it is our hero. Audition is ferocious from the get go but by the finish it's ready to tear out your jugular with a sequence so wonderfully shot and constructed that it's hard to take your eyes of the screen, even though you'll probably want to. Adding to the movies value are occasional flashes of sadistic black humour, which somehow amongst the bloodletting and mystery still induce smiles and titters. It really is that accomplished a motion picture.
This new release is excellent, even if the audio and video quality misfire occasionally. The picture is at times overly grainy, and whilst I realize that is part of Miike's aesthetic, it is at points unreasonably tainted for a 2009 DVD release. The extra features are spread over the second disc and amount to an impressive roster of additional content, starting with an introduction to the movie from its helmsman and leading lady. The latter says very little other than the film is an interesting one (Duh!), but Miike almost warns the viewer what he's in for, all the while a smirk plastered across his face. A subtitled commentary from Miike and his writer is also available though more agreeable are the nearly 80 minutes of interviews compiled throughout this release. They range from the key contributors to less obvious figures and tackle the picture with a loving detail and respect. A few trailers round out what I found to be a pretty stellar two disc offering, though I have become aware that certain features from previous releases aren't present.
Truly worth viewing (but only if you can hack hardcore horror), Audition is a sublime film given a respectable double dip via this shiny new two disc release. I would strongly advise you add it to your DVD collection.
Not Guilty. Now can I keep my feet?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated