Thursday, September 18, 2008

Audition/Ôdishon (Japan, 1999)

(Trailer) A film that has long become legendary; it is said it that Audition has never been screened without a huge mass of the audience fleeing for the exit once its climactic scene starts. The legend could be true, for even at the screening I attended a good dozen people ran for the door once the pins and piano wire came out. Whether or not Audition is a good film is arguable, but that it is an unnerving film is not.
Director Takashi Miike virtually puts the audience to sleep the first hour, lulling them with a slow, sublimely funny but (assumingly) realistic portrayal of a dull, delineated, lonesome and alienated Tokyo life as lived by Aoyama Shigeharu (Ishibashi Ryo). Widowed numerous years previously, he is egged on by his teenage son to finally look for a new mate. An unassuming man, he is at a loss at how to meet a proper marriage prospect in a city as impersonal as Tokyo. (A problem that can probably be related to by any number of lonely single men over 40 living in any given metropolis.) Yoshikawa (Kunimura Jun), a producer friend of his, suggests that they set up a fake audition and that Shigeharu, as the movie's "producer," can select the proper candidate from the auditioning woman. Of course, out of the hundreds that apply, Shigeharu immediately falls for the wrong one, the fragile looking Yamasaki Asami (Shiina Eiki). Impressed by the maturity of her application in which she talks about the loss of dreams—in her case, the dream of being a ballet dancer—Shigeharu dives headlong into the pursuit of the young beauty, despite warnings and signs that something isn't right with the young girl. The two finally go off together for a small trip during which he plans to propose, but before he can do so they spend the night together, she gets him to pledge undivided love to her and then promptly disappears. His search for her only reveals more secrets and mysteries, the various horrors he stumbles upon in no way fitting the fragile beauty he is so enamored with, the trail he follows leading nowhere. But then, he doesn't have to go anywhere in the end, for she comes back to him one evening when he is alone at home, paralyzing him with a drug that also keeps him awake.
The last twenty minutes is a surreal and perverse excess of realistic looking torture and mutilation interspersed with drugged fantasies and dreams that first confuse and then both disgust and unnerve. In Germany, one movie review has described Audition as being "enjoyable Nippon feminism," but this can only be said to be true if one believes that all feminists are psychos that have the desire to kill and mutilate all men for the sins of a patriarchal society as a whole. (Obviously that German reviewer, like many a man, has a hard time separating feminists from castrating bitches.)
Though Yamasaki's development into the monster she is revealed through flashbacks and revelations of the horrors she experienced as a child, the excesses that she revels in are in no way justified. Likewise, despite both the macho statements of the various men, the morally questionable way the "audition" is used and even the typically male mistakes Yoshikawa is revealed to have made in the past, he remains throughout the film the understandable and sympathetic figure, undeserving of the torturous revenge executed by Yamasaki. Perhaps this film is some sort of political statement, but in the end, it seems much too confused to be clear; Audition comes across most strongly as an anti-acupuncture advertisement with a definite anti-woman bias.
People with nerves of steel and undying patience who love cinematic oddities might find something enjoyable in this movie, as will purveyors of that type of horror film nowadays commonly referred to as "torture porn”, but few others will find anything much of interest here. Lovers of gore should simply fast forward up to the scene in which Yamasaki takes an unsuspecting sip of his nightly whisky and then keels over—it is all that follows that creates the fuss for which Audition is known. (Still, the boredom the film's first hour lulls one into definitely helps make the movie's almost unpalatable ending all the more effective.)

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