If you haven’t seen this film or read the book do not read any reviews, just watch the film. Warning: this is a long and rambling review.
The most memorable thing about Audition is the ferocious final thirty minutes which helped to establish the notion of Extreme Asian Cinema in the west and Takashi Miike’s skill for violence and grotesque horror (it also remains memorable because my Japanese teacher is fond of imitating dialogue). What is forgotten is this film showcases Miike’s brilliance when restrained and disciplined by a script with believable characters.
Since the death of his wife Ryoko seven years ago, film producer Aoyama(Ryo Ishibashi) has raised their son Shigehiko alone. The two live a happy life but Shigehiko notices his father looking worn out so asks “why don’t you marry again?” Aoyama is taken with the suggestion but is unsure how to approach remarrying. His friend Yoshikawa, a film producer, suggests staging an audition to find a girl aged between 20-35 for a role in a film that is unlikely to be made. The plan is Aoyama won’t marry the successful girl but the audition will uncover gems. Despite misgivings over the process, Aoyama proceeds and discovers ex-ballerina Asami(Eihi Shiina) and falls for her. After initial contact, she warms to his advances and Aoyama becomes increasingly infatuated with her fragile nature and beauty ignoring the dark side to the girl of his dreams.
Having recently read the original Ryu Murakami source-novel and re-watched the film and being much more aware of directing and editing techniques I have to praise the skilful execution of the film from the careful build up that lulls the audience into a false sense of security to the brutal act in the end.
This is a film that proves how well movies can adapt books. It helps that Murakami worked on the script but Miike uses all of the techniques open to film-makers to actually craft a film much more subtle than the source novel and able to affect viewers in a variety of way.
Miike starts the film with long steady takes building up a picture of Aoyama’s life – it is stable, he is a good father and decent chap. Within different conversations themes of loneliness, ageing, inter-generational differences and the recession are all touched upon. However the course of the film takes us uncomfortably close to the exploitation of women.
The whole audition is for Aoyama to cherry-pick his ideal woman from a group of women who have been fooled into applying for a role that will never be theirs. The process, whilst given frothy backing music, exposes the women to probing questions designed to root out ones Aoyama would find unacceptable. It is a glorified cattle parade for Aoyama to vet women to find one fulfil his high expectations without the women being given an equal footing they would get in a real date. The women range from normal to strange and although there is some comedy in the scene it is undercut by the fact that the women are hoping to gain a big break and exposing themselves to men who could not care less about them.
Aoyama even compares choosing from 30 girls with getting his first car however he does feel conflicted stating he feels like a criminal, the process is fraudulent revealing a complex character. Regardless of all that Aoyama gets the girl.
Their tentative dates maintain the steady pace from earlier. Asami conforms to Aoyama’s image of a perfect woman – almost too good to be true she falls into a submissive clingy role – all politeness, downcast eyes and fragile nature looking for a man to take care of her.
Outwardly Aoyama and Asami seem nice. However there is obvious editing during their conversations where they reveal themselves which signals that things are being edited out, that our perception of Asami is being manipulated as Aoyama deliberately withholds information from himself and by extension the audience.
After Asami disappears, Aoyama searches for her and descends into the darkness of her background and his infatuation, the techniques used to display this range from the visual (skewed camera angles, obvious editing, changes in colour saturation),
to the aural (simple melodies from earlier gradually become distorted) as the strangeness gets cranked up. This is when Miike allows his full skill to bloom.
In the final third of the film, Miike replays past conversations but with the edited parts included. In a sequence that is pure Miike, Aoyama enters a mental space which casts a different light on the characters by displaying the horrors of Asami’s upbringing signalling her destructive nature and Aoyama’s mistreatment of women.
Both characters are far from the innocents we started out with but the viewers suspected this because Miike use the visual techniques to affect the viewer, to alert us to the breaks in character and make us far more aware of our perception of people in a much more satisfactory experience than the blunt third person narration in the book.
The music, composed by Koji Endo, works in concert with what happens on screen. Throughout the film simple playful melodies are used, the audition scene featuring lively score. When the film becomes darker the music ceases to be playful and quaint and as Yoshikawa’s world falls apart the familiar melodies become increasingly discordant.
It is to Miike’s credit that the film gives much more credence to the audience and their ability to interpret a film. I won’t reveal any more but the film is great.
Release Date: October 06th, 1999 (Japan)
Running Time: 111 mins.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Daisuke Tengan (Screenplay), Ryu Murakami (Original Novel)
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Tetsu Sawaki, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi, Ren Osugi, Ken Mitsuishi, Fumiyo Kohinata,