One of our biggest complaints about movies is their inability to astound us. Whether or not the events revealed to you by Audition are things you would want to see, we can guarantee that this movie has a few surprises in store for even the most jaded of moviegoers. That alone might constitute a recommendation, but this review (like nearly every review of the film we've seen) contains a warning as well: if you want to feel the movie's full effect, go in with as little knowledge of the film as you can. If, on the other hand, you feel uneasy about the idea of a movie switching genres mid-stream, or if you're one of the teeming millions who want to know everything about a movie before you see it, read on. (Not that we would spoil everything, mind you.)
Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a middle-aged widower who, after seven years of raising his son alone, decides that he would like to have a woman in his life again. His friend and show business co-worker Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) comes up with what seems like a great idea. They'll hold an audition for a role that could be filled by the kind of woman Aoyama likes. If the movie comes together, great; if the movie never comes together at least Aoyama will have met lots of available women.
In a couple of weeks they'll
be able to build a back-up Leonardo Di Caprio.
In outline, this could be the plot to a romantic comedy. Cast Hugh Grant of Richard Gere as the widower, Winona Ryder or Liv Tyler as the actress he falls for. They would fall in love, and he is so taken with her he tells her the truth about the sham audition. She's mortally offended and leaves, but they get back together in the tearful final scene staged, no doubt, during some form of inclement weather.
Damn, we wish we knew some Hollywood agents. This stuff practically writes itself!
As treacle-awful as that scenario sounds, most people, even those inclined toward cult movies, would probably prefer our version to the direction in which director Takashi Miike takes this story. Audition is a movie for people who think the violence in Dario Argento films is too tame. It isn't for the audience that made Helen Fielding a millionaire.
From the fake audition (the process looks a lot like how Woody Allen would choose a new girlfriend) Aoyama picks a shy girl named Asami (model Eihi Shiina). She doesn't hesitate to go out on a couple of dates with Aoyama, though, and she doesn't seem all that disappointed when he tells her the movie isn't going to happen. But when Asami disappears before he can pop the question, Aoyami investigates her background a little more thoroughly. He turns up ballet lessons and a series of horrible murders and mutilations. See, this is why long engagements are a must.
If this movie isn't for the romantic comedy crowd, David Lynch junkies might lap it up. Audition's story has its own brand of incoherency it's more about the cumulative effect of the scenes it contains than about any plot. It has some great scares, but don't expect the numerous dreams and hallucinations of the last half to fit into any framework that can be explained in terms of reality. Aoyama has (apparently) accurate dreams about Asami's apartment even though he's never been there. That, or earlier scenes in which he wasn't present were deliberately meant to throw us off track. These hallucinations aren't related to any character; they're the director screwing with you.
Audition is a film you'll tell your friends about, not so much by way of recommendation as much as to tell them how messed up it is. It's too slow by far in the first hour, and the second is so completely bizarre and disturbing as to make you wonder why you sat through the first. The cinematography is gorgeous, at least in the scenes where that matters, but there are enough segments tinted entirely with blues or oranges that watching the DVD version will be necessary. (The DVD screener we saw was based, we assume, on the print that went out during its theatrical run. The actual release version promises to be newly mastered, hopefully with readable subtitles. The option to hide them would be nice, too.)
And people say Japanese game
shows go too far.
Calling Miike the Japanese David Lynch would be too easy, but not entirely off the mark. Both directors delight in misdirection and in causing discomfort for the audience. Miike, however, concerns himself a bit more with everyday human relationships, especially in Audition. Often Lynch's characters are already parodies when they become embroiled in strange circumstances; Miike's are deceptively normal until hell breaks loose, which it does stealthily. Which is more disturbing probably depends on how "normal" you are.