31 Days of Hell: Audition

Talk about hell. We review the brutal 1999 film, Audition

"No. I refuse to do the Pledge of
Allegiance. I prefer to wait it out."
There are some men who like to think of women as objects to be collected, as if they are beautiful and fragile crystal knick-knacks to be displayed on their mantelpiece and shown off to others.  On rare occasions the evening sun catches a particular figure and radiates through the facets, enticing the man to pick it up and turn it around in his hands.  He is not careful and drops it to the ground, shattering it into many jagged pieces.  In his efforts to salvage the once perfect object, his fingers are cut to ribbons by the shards still sparkling enticingly in the light.  What initially looks gorgeous can also bring unspeakable pain and suffering.

Which brings us to Audition, Japanese director Takashi Miike’s sly, sordid romance of love and torment which pulls the rug out from beneath viewer expectations and tolerance.  Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widowed business man who has been out of the dating game for seven long years.  His son and colleagues prompt him to look for a new wife and he turns to his movie producer friend for help.  Electing to hold a fake audition to let Shigeharu interview the women and secretly choose a prospective love interest, a demure and introverted woman named Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) catches Shigeharu’s eye and wins him over easily.  The couple hit it off swimmingly, Asami being the perfect suitor for Shigeharu in every way, until she decides to share her past and with him.

"If I have my way, this dress won't
be white for very long."
One of the reasons Audition provides such a sharp jolt to the senses is part and parcel to Miike’s strategically slow, deliberate pacing.  Lingering on quieter moments the characters experience, this jarring “cinematic negative space” prevalent in many Japanese films may seem sluggish or unnecessary to Western audiences.  But in Audition, it brings viewers closer to the emotional core of Miike’s characters as well as building tension or fear.  The sustained pacing also amplifies the impending coup de grĂ¢ce, which hits like a sledgehammer when it finally arrives.  Miike’s fondness for canted angles or interesting wide shots to convey a certain atmosphere or tone in addition to his editing is fine tuned to masterful perfection here.  Generally lensing his work on digital, another great tactic to emphasize Audition’s tonal shift is the preceding documentary feel to earlier scenes sharply contrasted by a steadily heavier increase in stylized cinematography.

Miike’s use of color schemes to establish ambiance is clever and understated.  In the first third of Audition the color palette is normal and desaturated with a lot of white space and harsh overhead lighting.  As the film progresses, colors warm up, coinciding with Shigeharu and Asami’s budding relationship before bright yellow, cobalt blue and splashes of blood red dominates the finale.  The transition is gradual and subtle but perfectly synchronized with the story arc—the audience can feel the film changing on a subconscious level.  And just when Shigeharu (and we) begin to sense something is wrong, Audition bites down hard and the traumatic experience which follows is not unlike an out of nowhere road accident striking your vehicle.

"I wonder what's in Santa's bag
this year!!! Hopefully it's a body!"
Those familiar with Miike’s body of work may find Audition a drastic departure from his usual style and content, typically residing in the brutal underworld of the Yakuza as opposed to mushy romances.  Unconventional and rebellious, Miike’s something of an outlier in his native country and with Audition, Miike manages to trump even the worst of his Yakuza shockers combined.  His razor sharp touch hasn’t been dulled one iota here, swiftly and neatly slicing though audience expectations.  Unsurprisingly, reportedly after screening Audition at film festivals, women approached him afterwards and screamed in his face “You are sick!  I hate you!” a visceral reaction most people will absolutely have and feel after viewing this movie.

Among Audition’s most intriguing thematic elements concern man’s perception of women in general.  Females aren’t seen as equals but dolls to be toyed with and disposed of as they see fit.  Men in Audition are dismissive towards women as a whole and tend towards taking their dates for granted.  A key, notably insulting scene to behold involves Shigeharu superficially listing the pros and cons of his potential love interests—tantamount to deciding the kind of car to buy as opposed to picking someone to love and cherish.   The ultimate lesson of Audition is to not judge a book by its cover.  Sometimes you bite into an apple that looks perfect on the outside and discover the inside is rotted and filled with worms.  As happens in real life, things aren’t always what they seem on the surface and sometimes the ultimate price for that folly is paid.  Be careful what you wish for...it may be too good to be true.

-Michelle Kisner
-Andrew Kotwicki