audition-posterReview of Takashi Miike’s Audition (オーディション) – first published by UK Anime Network.


The world was a much more innocent place back in 1999. Takashi Miike already had 34 films to his name before Audition became his breakout hit even whilst seeing him branded “sick” by a disgusted audience member at the film’s otherwise successful screening at the Rotterdam film festival. Based on the book of the same name by Japan’s master of the nasty psychological thriller Ryu Murakami, Audition is the twisted romantic nightmare to end all twisted romantic nightmares.

Aoyama is a widower with an almost grown-up child. Now that his parental responsibilities are changing, and spurred on by his encouraging son, Aoyama perhaps feels ready to move into another phase of his life by considering the idea of getting married again. However, Aoyama is a sensitive and romantic man who’s actually a little naive when it comes to matters of the heart and obviously hasn’t had much experience in the dating world in the last twenty years. He turns to an old friend who happens to be a casting director and comes up with the novel (if somewhat inappropriate) idea of letting Aoyama sit in on an audition to look for a new wife.

In glancing over the headshot resumés, one catches his eye – that of a former ballet dancer who equates having had to abandon her dream of becoming a professional dancer because of an injury with a sort of spiritual death. This deep sense of loss strikes a chord in the widowed Aoyama and despite his friend’s warnings that she gives him the creeps, Asami is the one he’s set his heart on. However, Asami is not the sweet and innocent girl she first appears to be…

In the intervening 15 years since its original release, Audition has amassed something of a reputation which is to say that viewers will almost certainly be aware of its “extreme” nature. However, Audition arguably works best when seen blind as it begins as a fairly straightforward romantic drama in which a broken hearted widower begins to live again thanks to the attentions of a shy young woman. Of course, Miike is peppering the otherwise anodyne love story with subtle (and not so subtle) clues all the way through, planting doubts in our minds right away. Is Aoyama just an old fool who’s lost his head over a young beauty or is he right to grow suspicious in the face of the ever increasing, yet circumstantial, evidence of Asami’s strangeness?

Is Asami hiding a dark secret, or is Aoyama projecting his fears of romantic entanglements onto her  silhouette and therefore creating, in some sense, a villainess worthy of his anxieties? According to Miike himself, Audition is not a horror movie (Japanese horror movies are linked with the supernatural and Audition’s terrors are very much of the real world) – Murakami in fact wrote the book as a strange kind of “love letter” to a woman he had wronged. Miike sought to envisage her reply and gives her an opportunity to offer a series of extremely dark explanations of her own. Neither Aoyama or Asami have been honest with themselves or each other. Aoyama is looking for a cookie cutter ideal to fit into the pre-made box marked “wife”, and well, it would be better not to go into all the various ways Asami has misrepresented herself but she does have a point when she calls Aoyama on how easy it was to make him fall for her meek and feeble innocent act.

Asami and Aoyama are always working at cross purposes to each other, engaged in a macabre dance where Asami leads by stealth, waltzing Aoyama into her spider’s web of vengeance by neatly subverting his ideas of femininity. However, this is not to cast Asami as a vile temptress or the predatory female born of male fears of emasculation (though these ideas are definitely in play), nor is she an avenging feminist warrior so much as a lonely, damaged woman. At the very end of the film the pair have perhaps reached a kind of understanding as, according to Asami, only in extreme pain does one understand one’s own mind. Left maimed and helpless, each is scarred and broken but alive and, perhaps, at peace at last.


Audition is now re-released on blu-ray in the UK from Arrow Films in a significantly better transfer than the previous US blu-ray from Shout Factory.

 

7 comments

  1. Great review. I’m a big fan of the film. I was interested in the fifth paragraph and the idea that Murakami wrote the books as a love letter. I can’t remember reading that when I had the novel but it certainly adds to the mystique of the film!

    Lots of reviewers like to catagorise this as a feminist film. What’s your take on that issue?

    1. Tom Mes mentions this in his original review over at Midnight Eye (http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/audition/) and talks about it a bit more in the commentary track where he also reads out parts of the English translation of the novel and discusses how it relates to the film. (I’m going to restrict my comments to the film only though)

      SPOILERS BELOW!!!!

      I think it’s a difficult question – Audition obviously takes place in a very sexist world and even if Aoyama is not a particularly vehement chauvinist he is a typical representation of a contemporary man. Even if he says he “feels like a criminal” at the auditions, he’s still already commodified his future wife as if he were buying a house or a car – writing a check list of ideal features and then seeing all of the available items on offer to decide which one fits him “best”.

      However, Asami’s revenge is also much more personal than it is political or general. She’s suffered at the hands of men (and the hands of women too) but the crucial thing is that she can’t bear for anyone to have someone they love more than they love her, so Aoyama fails her tests precisely because of his love for his son. She calls him out on the skeevy audition scheme which is ironic because it’s the first time he’s done this but you get the impression that his friend probably does use the auditioning process in just the way Asami suggests he does (yet he gets off scot free). Ultimately, she isn’t successful so the patriarchy wins, kind of?

      So you can also read it as anti-feminist in that it paints a picture of women who fail to conform to the expected social norms as “monstrous”, in as much as Asami is a reflection of male fears of an independent woman who doesn’t fit the meek and subdued criteria which is associated with the traditional “wife”. This villainess is quickly defeated by the “last boy standing” when Aoyama’s son returns unexpectedly and even if the film ends on a note of anxiety there’s still the expectation that something has been ended and the threat posed by this “transgressive” woman has been eliminated.

      I’m not sure really what Miike was going for – he says he intends no social commentary whatsoever. I think probably what interests him is the messiness of it – he wants to blur these lines and explore these interstitial spaces and then grin at us mischievously as we try to puzzle it out. I don’t think you can call Audition a “feminist film” because I don’t think that’s the primary motivation but it certainly has feminist undertones and works as a pretty damning indictment of the misogyny found in everyday society yet it also somewhat enforces those ideas too.

      1. Thanks for the reply! I think you gave what could be the final answer.

        This is Miike’s most technically complex film (that I have seen, at any rate – not seen Big Bang Juvenile Love A) and he’s clearly having a ball with the editing and writing as he undermines the two characters at the heart of the “romance”. By making them unreliable narrators he is also exploiting audience expectations as the characters start off as relatable archetypes or idealised versions of their gender and then audiences get a shock when they deviate into monsters/victims as the extent of their abuse/neediness comes out into the open and it makes for an exciting story as you don’t know what to believe or expect next. It’s fascinating to watch and it makes you really engage with the story!

        I think it’s an intoxicating idea that it’s a feminist film but I have to agree with you. It deconstructs the male gaze (and Asami deconstructs some of the males who gaze at her) and feminine ideals but never offers any real criticism. You have elucidated how audiences would be deceiving themselves in believing Asami’s actions are a blow against the patriarchy and she ultimately loses. No feminist point is being made but Miike is having fun setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

        I was planning on lending the film (Tartan release) to a friend and she’s very much interested in feminism but I was a bit wary of talking that aspect of it up.

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