Director Spotlight: Audition
“Kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri…!”
Before I begin, let me just say that much of the enjoyment (if “enjoyment” is the right word when talking about this movie) of watching Audition comes from surprise, from the movie’s many shifts and turns and turnaround-agains. If you’ve never seen the movie but plan to, I say just go ahead and watch it. You were going to anyway. I claim no responsibility. If, however, you’re reading this because you simply want to know if the movie is worth your time, I will say yes, it is, but with the very strong proviso that this movie is…shall we say…not for everyone.
It’s a tale as old as time, really: man (Ryo Ishibashi) loses wife, man raises his son alone for 7 years, man wants to remarry, man doesn’t know how to meet women, man and movie producer friend cook up scheme to hold fake “auditions” to find the perfect girl, perfect girl (Eihi Shiina) turns out to be a COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH.
If you know of Takashi Miike only by reputation or by one or two of his other more “extreme” movies (Ichi the Killer, in particular, is a fun one to watch with someone who thinks they’ve seen it all), you may be surprised by how very mannered, how almost French that much of this movie actually is. Miike is known so much for his violent excesses (and this movie is most certainly no exception) that it’s easy to forget how skilled he is as a director, a filmmaker, in general. Indeed, for the first third of the movie, aside from a couple of quick, literal blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashes, there really is no hint that you’re watching anything but a middle brow, even charming romantic melodrama.
It takes, in fact, almost until the midpoint of the movie, and one of THE great “scare” moments of modern-classic horror, before you realize, suddenly, that you are watching, and have been watching all along, a horror movie. The second half of Audition is a rapid descent into lunatic depravity, culminating in a brutal symphony of physical and psychological…ah, screw it – it’s straight-up torture porn. The very definition of torture porn, from a time before there was a term for it, that arguably invented the genre, and that has, for better or worse (mainly for worse), influenced a hundred thousand young filmmakers to try and top it. And when you get to “that part” (and yes, it really is every bit as hard to watch as you’ve probably heard), you have to think that the idea of an entire new generation of filmmakers trying to “out-Audition” Audition is almost certainly not a good idea.
So glorious are the knife-twists and turns of the final act that one can somewhat excuse the fact that the movie doesn’t quite make sense on its own terms – large portions of Aoyama’s shock-induced reverie features aspects of the story of which he would have no prior knowledge (Asami’s apartment, the sack, etc.). This has lead some to speculate that perhaps all of the psycho-Asami scenes are in Aoyama’s imagination – speculation which, of course, does not hold up as clearly the events of the end of the movie are happening, Asami actually is a COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH, and Aoyama saw none of this coming.
There has been and continues to be much critical discussion in scholarly circles about what Audition is actually about, most of which I personally don’t believe hold much water. When taken as a whole, and especially considering Asami’s ultimate fate, the movie holds up neither as feminist manifesto (Asami is no avenging heroine because…hello! She’s a COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH) nor as a critique of contemporary Japansese society (Aoyama’s biggest “crime” seems, to me, to be his very “Japanese-ness”, but what happens to him is no cautionary tale of the fruits of casual sexism and misogyny because, again, Asami is – have I mentioned? – a COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH). Asami’s actions and psyche are undoubtedly due to the abuses and violations of her childhood, which are deplorable and unconscionable in any culture, having little or no connection to “what it means to be Japanese”; the main message of the movie, therefore, if there is one, would appear to be “don’t sexually abuse and scar children.” Deep. Thanks for that.
So then, what to take away from Audition? For what it’s worth, Miike himself has gone on record to say that he intended no social criticism or commentary in this movie. Your own take-away may come to you in the days or years that the images of this movie will stay with you, but trying to “figure it out” during the movie itself, I suspect, misses the point of it. At this point, you’ll be watching the movie from behind the back of your hands, anyway.
Personally? Suddenly the thought of staying single for the rest of my life doesn’t sound quite so bad.