Ôdishon (Japan alternative transliteration), Audition
She always gets a part
Running Time: 111 minutes
UK Certificate: 18
Country: Japan, Korea (South)
In Hollywood, directors who manage to churn out a film a year are considered prodigiously prolific, so Japanese director Takashi Miike's average of six films per year is completely off any normal scale. Yet far from being hampered by such a punishing rate of production, or by the low budgets imposed on him, Miike flourishes on seemingly inexhaustible reserves of energy and inventiveness, consistently creating provocative, visceral films which fall somewhere in the crack between arthouse and exploitation cinema. Driven by a unique, often perverse, vision, Miike's films are always full of surprises and shocks as they explore humanity at its criminal, sexual or scatological extreme. Put simply, he is one of today's greatest living directors, and his best films, once seen, are very difficult to forget.
While much of Miike's work travels the festival circuit and DVD market, 'Audition', based on the novel by Ryu Murakami, is the first of his films to have gone out on general release and attracted mainstream attention. It is also his only horror film to date, although in it he shows both a thorough mastery of the genre's tropes, and an ability to create something strikingly new from them. Apart from being one of the finest horror films ever made – period – with its carefully modulated building of tension and its heart-poundingly strong conclusion, it is also a moving study of the deep psychological scars which past tragedies can leave.
Seven years after his wife's death from illness, middle-aged Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) is encouraged by his teenage son Shigehiho (Tetsu Kuremaru) to think about remarrying. Shigeharu feels that he is too old to play the dating game, so Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), a friend from the film industry, proposes that he choose a suitable woman from a casting audition that they set up. Although the shy and basically decent Shigeharu has reservations about the scheme, he soon finds himself drawn to one of the applicants – Asami (Eihi Shiina), a softly spoken girl, closer in age to his son, whose modesty and melancholy strike a chord with Shigeharu. She, like him, is damaged by past loss, and Shigeharu is besotted – despite Yoshikawa's warnings that something is not quite right about the girl and the sack of problems that she brings with her. After a brief period of courtship, Asami and Shigeharu sleep together at a hotel – where a living nightmare begins in which Shigeharu is torn apart by feelings of paralysis at the loss of his wife, by the prickings of his guilty conscience, by anxiety for his son, and by the sweet torture of his desire for Asami, all of which come together in a surreal, sado-masochistic climax.
Miike's enigmatic allegory of a self-tormenting soul leaves its bloody imprint on the viewer's consciousness both because of the attention he pays to building sympathy for the damaged vulnerability of his two central characters, and because the film's final sequences portray Shigeharu's inner torture with such graphic viciousness. Yet while it forces viewers to reassess the limits of their own squeamishness, 'Audition' is ultimately a tragic film about the pain of loneliness, loss and longing – with, in a typical Miike gesture, an absurdly upbeat song played through the closing credits.
It's Got: Perfectly realised characters, a healthy dose of surrealism, some very uncomfortable body horror, and an overwhelming sense of sadness.
It Needs: Nothing. This painstaking audition has led to a perfect, one-of-a-kind film.
DVD Extras Filmographies for the three lead actors, the novelist Ryu Murakami, and Miike himself (although with only 11 films listed, this is already ridiculously out of date). Six pages of film notes by Chris Campion, which are particularly good on the thematic links between Audition and The Eel (both of which were scripted by Daisuke Tengen). A thirteen minute interview with Miike, in which he is cool, understated, and as unforthcoming as ever on the interpretation of his film. The original trailer and a screensaver. There is no audio commentary. DVD Extras Rating: 4/10
Alternatives:Damage, Misery, The Eel, The Isle
A slow-burning psychological thriller that builds ominously and inexorably to its shocking pay-off and then leaves you squirming in your seat – but with enough subtlety and depth that for days afterwards you will be trying to pick up the pieces. 'Audition' is a meditative, melancholic masterpiece that is not for the squeamish.