Tuesday, February 8, 2011


If I can be frank about it, Takashi Miike's Audition is one of the ten best movies I have ever seen. It is one of those rare films that manages to leave the viewer with no sense of reality, no sense of place. The viewer is left to try to decipher what one has just seen, and even if one is unable to do so, one knows what they saw was amazing.
Audition is about a man's (Aoyama) search for a new wife seven years after his first wife's death. His friend, a movie producer, suggests that they hold a fake audition so that he can meet a good woman. Aoyama immediately falls for Asami Yamazaki, a very shy but beautiful former ballerina. After the audition he calls her and they go out for lunch. He says he'll call her again and have dinner.

Until this point in the story, the film is shot like a straightforward romantic drama, which it pretty much was. Once we see inside Asami's apartment, the the film gets much more expressive and threatening: color and light are more purposeful, angles become harsher, sound effects more startling. Her apartment is very bare, with wallpaper peeling off the walls. She's seated on the floor, eagerly staring at her phone. There's a giant oddly-shaped sack on the floor behind the phone. Once the phone finally rings, she smiles, and something in the bag growls and begins to roll around; a wonderfully-timed jump scare.

After that follows a seemingly random series of dates, vacations and encounters between Aoyama and Asami. Some of them show Asami as a shy and awkward but ultimately sweet and devoted girl. Some show her as the victim of her ballet teacher's torture when she was young and the probable murderer of her former boss. One scene shows Aoyama and Asami in her apartment, where a man missing three fingers, an ear and his tongue crawls out of the aforementioned sack, and Asami vomits into a bowl and feeds it to him. By this time, no one watching, and especially not Aoyama, has the slightest idea who the real Asami is.

Then we jump to one of the most frightening torture scenes ever filmed. Asami has poisoned Aoyama, leaving him paralyzed but able to feel. She has donned a black leather apron, boots and elbow-high gloves; give her a wimp and she'll be your dominatrix. She begins by placing acupuncture needles under his rib cage and behind his eyeballs, all while repeating the incredibly creepy but cheerful chant "kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri," meaning "deeper, deeper." Then she slowly removes his foot with razor-thin piano wire, and with a cute, gleeful and insane smile from ear to ear.

During the torture scene, Aoyama's son walks in, and we jump to Aoyama waking up in bed next to Asami in the hotel where they vacationed earlier in the film. It seems it's all been a dream. But no. After Asami lovingly accepts his marriage proposal, we jump back to the torture scene. Aoyama's son is then able to subdue her and call the police.

This film to me is a struggle with misanthropy, and particularly hatred toward the opposite sex. Aoyama, after losing his wife to illness, is terrified of dating again. He falls for Asami, but has no idea what to expect from her. He hopes that it goes well, and that hope is reflected in the scenes in which Asami is fully normal and falling in love with him. But he fears for the worst, and that is why he imagines the worst case scenarios of her being a torture victim as a child and a serial killer as an adult. His guilt forces him to imagine Asami as his feminist housekeeper, his late wife whom he feels he is betraying, his desperate secretary with whom he had a one-night stand. He fears that women will see men as inferior, as emotionless, as liars, in any negative way at all.

Asami is guilty of this misanthropy as well. She repeats throughout the film her fear that she will find him "heavy," as some sort of burden. If we take as true any of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ballet instructor, which cost her the one thing that gave her joy as a child, she has an obvious and understandable hatred and fear of men. Not so much a physical fear of men, but a fear of being rejected by men, of being alone. It's this fear that causes her to be so shy and awkward around Aoyama.

But in the end, even after the horrible torture, hope springs eternal. After Asami repeats her fears and lamentations, Aoyama assures her "Someday you'll feel that life is wonderful. That's life, isn't it?" The last image we see is Asami as a child putting on her ballet slipper, are reminded of the happiest time in her life, and then credits roll.

The ability of this film to exist both in the real and surreal planes, the blur the line so well between what's seen and what's imagined by its characters, and the statement it makes about finding hope and beauty in life even after such atrocities, combined with the amazing sound effects, performances and cinematography, are what make this film so singular and so mesmerizing.

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