AUDITION (ÔDISHON) (Takashi Miike, 1999)
After seven years widowed Japanese TV producer Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) feels that it is time to find a new wife in AUDITION. A co-worker offers to assist by putting out a casting call for a film no one intends to make and letting Aoyama pick thirty applicants. They will interview the women, which then gives Aoyama the opening to charm whichever prospective actress he selects as a potentially viable spouse.
Even before the audition, he is captivated by the submitted profile of Asami (Eihi Shiina). This demure young woman with an old soul possesses all the qualities Aoyama wants in a wife, and his enthusiasm for her is undisguised during the audition.
It isn’t hard to imagine a Hollywood film taking AUDITION’S scenario and making a drama or romantic comedy. A lonely man seeking love is a familiar set-up, and about the first third of AUDITION plays like a standard melodrama. However, AUDITION is directed by Takashi Miike, an unbelievably prolific filmmaker who is notorious for turning out movies that get placed under the Asian extreme classification. At some point things are going to take a wrong turn in AUDITION, and boy do they ever.
The drastic shift in tone and style is the film’s ace in the hole. When AUDITION changes gears, the main character and the audience are equally disoriented. It’s the rare film that provides the experience of being caught off guard on a consistent basis or acquires a feeling of danger because it doesn’t play according to the rules. That’s what Miike accomplishes with great skill in AUDITION and varying degrees of success in his other movies.
AUDITION’S second half is packed with disturbing surprises and a pitch black sense of humor. The climax is as unrelenting and difficult to watch as anything I’ve seen in a horror film because it embraces the pain that its counterparts never dare too. Whether reading AUDITION as a portrait of coming to terms with grief, a feminist revenge tale, or a graphic exploration of romantic attachment and idealism, it remains a terrifying film.