When Audition was released in 1999, it unwittingly became the standard-bearer for the modern horror torture genre. I say that because much of the film centers on the simmering uneasiness of it’s main characters, with only flashes of the depraved cruelty to come towards the end. But in preparing the audience for his artistic debauchery, director Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive, Gozu, Three… Extremes) proved that even torture films can have a heart and soul, characters that can be cared about, and even a love story… well, sort of.
Audition’s story follows the tribulations of TV producer Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who is finally recovering from the tragic loss of his wife. After raising their now teenaged son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) alone, he is encouraged by the young lad to remarry before old age makes the prospect virtually impossible. Unable to find anyone suitable, and rusty in the ways of modern dating, Shigeharu consults a close friend (Jun Kunimura) on how to find an appropriate woman. The friend proposes a clever idea. They’ll hold an audition for the female lead in a film project that doesn’t exist, and ask the girls that respond to the casting call personal relationship questions, and then Shigeharu will choose the prettiest one with the best answers for a wife.
Shigeharu nervously jumps at the idea and the cavalcade of weirdos and misfits that show up for the phony audition are pitiful, until he meets a striking former ballerina named Asami (Eihi Shiina), who appears dressed in a beautiful white outfit. However, his potential bride-to-be seems just too good to be true and an investigation into her past reveals that people in her life have a nasty habit of disappearing, some leaving behind only hacked up, unidentifiable bodies with pieces that don’t quite match up. Aoyama also begins to slip in and out of incredibly filmed dream-states, leaving the viewer to question, at times, whether his investigation is just part of some negative fantasy he’s built up in his mind as an excuse for not having faith in his own happiness. But as this enthralling chiller unfolds, we find out just why the Blu-ray disc cover teases a diminutive beautiful woman wearing a chemical-safe black rubber pair of gloves with matching smock, and is holding a syringe that looks to be made for use on horses rather than humans. It ain’t pretty folks.
Audition is a chilling, cerebral, and ultimately disturbing look at obsession and violence, where torture becomes a cinematic form of art, and inspired American filmmakers to deliver franchise films like Hostel (in which Miike makes a cameo appearance) and Saw, which upped the ante as far as violence, but lowered bar on the visceral emotion associated with such graphic imagery, which made their central themes of murder and depravity seem pedestrian to viewers. Miike teased those themes in Audition, building the story into a crescendo of suspense and mystery that climaxes only after its audience is feeling the same haze of doubt and confusion that Shigeharu feels, creating the optimum shock affect.
This 2-Disc Collector’s Edition of Audition includes a beautifully designed 8-page booklet featuring an essay by Tom Mes, author of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike and editor of MidnightEye.com, which discusses Japanese genre films. The booklet contains still images from the movie, as well as block quotations. Also included on Disc 1 is an Audio Commentary with director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan, where they discuss the making of the film, its visual elements, the storytelling aspects of the production and more. Disc 2, which is a Standard Definition DVD, contains brand new interviews with cast members Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Ôsugi, along with some of Audition’s trailers. My issue with the special features, is that they should have also been offered in HD. However the content itself is thought-provoking and introspective, illustrating the wise casting choices Miike originally made for the production.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Daisuke Tengan, based on the novel by Ryû Murakami
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi, Ren Ôsugi, Shigeru Saiki, Ken Mitsuishi, Yuriko Hirooka, Fumiyo Kohinata, Misato Nakamura
Original Release: 1999
Blu-ray Release Date: October 6, 2009