Audition – Review
A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.
We are one day away from Halloween 2022 and that means we are down to the last two reviews of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. We have a horror classic coming for you tomorrow. Today we are off to Japan for something entirely different. We are taking a look a Takashi Miike’s disturbing horror “Audition” from 1999.
As much of a drama as it is a horror, Audition is an exploration into the effects and consequences of the patriarchal Japanese society. Offering a closeup look into the experiences of young girls and women. Audition has been described as a feminist movie by many. Featuring a near two hour runtime, for much of its length, it is a heavy drama laced with grief and romance. For the final half an hour, however, it turns into something completely different and entirely horrifying. As always, I will give a quick spoiler free breakdown of the movie. You can feel free to skip this if you like.
As mentioned above, we are down to the last two days of our K-O-Ween 31 days of Halloween feature. For those of you who have missed it, I have been covering a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022. I plan to do this every year. Next up we have a month of fall/autumn themed horror movies. I will be reviewing at least four films a week so be sure to check back for that. In December we will be looking at 25 Christmas themed horrors in our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature so keep an eye out for that.
Audition – Synopsis
Audition begins with Aoyama Shigeharu, played by Ryo Ishibashi, bending over a hospital bed. His wife, seemingly terminally ill, is coming to the end of her life. Shigeharu’s son arrives just as his mother expires. Fast forwarding a few years, Shigeharu’s son Shigehiko, played by Tetsu Sawaki, is now in his late teens and the two are fishing. Having no success, Shigeharu claims he is waiting for a big one. Shigeharu’s patience pays off with a big catch so the two head home. Around the dinner table, Shigehiko tells his dad that he should get remarried. Confused, Shigeharu seemingly contemplates the prospect.
Talking with his friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, played by Jun Kunimura, Shigeharu tells him how he desires to remarry. Asking him what type of girl he would like, Shigeharu lists a number of ideals that he would prefer. Stating that he wishes there was a way for him to find the perfect girl. Shigeharu states that he would like the opportunity to be presented with a lot of different women so that he can pick the one that is ideal for him.
Taking everything his friend told him into account, Yasuhisa comes up with an idea. Yasuhisa is a movie producer and suggests that they should set up auditions for a fake movie called Tomorrow’s Heroine. The two would encourage women to apply for the main role in the movie. When the applications come through, Shigeharu can pick a number of the girls that catch his eye. They will then be invited to a casting call where they will be interviewed in person. Shigeharu can then choose the woman he likes the most.
Casting Call – Synopsis Cont.
Shigeharu picks around thirty different women to appear at the audition. One, in particular, catches his eye from her application alone. The girl is called Asami Yamazaki, played by Eihi Shiina, and appears to have had a difficult life. She had a dream to become a ballerina and train in London. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury to her hips and her dreams died. She claims that it was like accepting death. Attracted to the seeming depth of her emotion, Shigeharu is immediately drawn to her and looks forward to seeing her at the audition.
At the casting call, a number of girls show up and audition for the fake role. The majority of the women seem to not be up to Shigeharu’s standard. Some are emotional, others have complicated pasts, others appear to simply be a little odd. Walking out into the waiting room, Shigeharu notices Asami sat at the back of the room. Excited at the prospect of seeing her, he heads back to the audition room to wait on her.
Asami is, apparently, the last girl to enter for an interview. Shigeharu makes it very clear to her that he has read her application thoroughly and tells her he admires her. When the audition is completed, he tells Yasuhisa that he likes her. Yasuhisa, however, says he has a bad feeling about Asami. Later on, Shigeharu contacts Asami and arranges a dinner with her to discuss her application. Despite being unable to contact any of her references, he is blinded by feelings of desire. He meets up with her and this begins a series of dates that will end in something truly horrific.
Slow Paced, Compelling, and Utterly Disturbing
Audition was made during a time where the Japanese horror industry was booming from the success of Ringu. Wanting to capitalise on that success, production company Omega Project purchased the rights to Ryu Murakami’s disturbing novel Audition. Bringing the dynamic director Takashi Miike on board, the movie was greenlit and shot in just three weeks. The result is one of the most surprising, shocking, and disturbing films to come out of Japan. When considering some of the movies to release under the J-Horror banner, the fact that Audition remains so unsettling is something of a surprise.
A slow paced drama for the majority of its runtime. Audition digs deep into the feelings of grief and isolation that come from losing a partner. Since his wife passed away, Shigeharu has devoted himself to his job and raising his child. The people around him tell him he is looking old and needs to find love. Shigeharu seems to have not addressed this loneliness, preferring to bury himself in his work. Only when it is pointed out to him does it become apparent. Seeing the complication in finding his perfect girl, at his age, he seeks to simplify the process.
Meeting a woman with a massively disturbed past, the age gap between the two is the least of Shigeharu’s concerns. We slowly learn more about Asami’s childhood and the horrific facts of her life unfold. A tale too commonly told by women all over the world; Asami was abused, molested, and taken advantage of. She seeks to find love and acceptance and wishes to be the main focus of someone’s life. What follows is surprising and shocking. The rconsequenes of society’s brutality towards women is unleashed in a way that many would not see coming.
More Than a Horror Movie
Audition regularly appears on lists of the best horror movies of all time. Tarantino has cited it as one of his favourite ever horror movies. Basically inspiring a sub-genre, its influence can be seen heavily in the “Torture Porn” era of horror that followed. Movies like Saw and Hostel owe much to Audition’s final 30 minutes of macabre violence. Hostel, in particular, pays homage to Audition in a number of ways and features a guest appearance from Takashi Miike himself.
Focusing too much on the horror aspect, however, ignores just how multi-faceted of a movie Audition really is. Indeed, for the most part, it will feel as though you are not watching a horror at all. The first hour and a quarter are that of a drama movie about a man seeking love. You could easily wander into Audition not recognising its horror leanings until the last half an hour. At that point you will probably end up with whiplash from the shock caused by what takes place.
A Fascinating Story
The deep drama aspect of the movie is held up by a compelling story. The concept of holding a fake audition is immediately gripping. These are two people with some degree of power. The fact that they would abuse that power simply so Shigeharu can find his perfect girl is shocking. Despite Shigeharu’s desire to love, it his desire to be loved that is most prominent. He wants to pick and choose the girl he would like. He is a seemingly decent person but to him and Yasuhisa, the women are merely objects for them to prod, poke and pick at will.
The audition process itself is both comical and fun. Played, at least somewhat, for laughs; the girls who are interviewed are hilarious. Some are awkward, some have clear mental health issues, some are talented, others not so much. It’s made very apparent, however, as one girl removes her clothes, that they are all being taken advantage of. They are victims in Shigeharu and Yasuhisa’s game, exploited like meat at a butcher’s shop. There is an ever present grey area weaved into the story of Audition and these events are a stark reminder.
A Subtle Message
Miike’s directing chops have extended to practically every genre. Be it horror, comedy, drama or even actions films. This broad range is on full display in Audition. The movie represents the first time his talents have came together so cohesively to produce something genuinely profound. Whether this is entirely due to his directing of the movie or because of the compelling source material is up for debate.
Miike presents the world in Audition as a complicated place where nothing is black or white. Shigeharu is a sympathetic character who has suffered significant grief after losing his wife. Doing his best to provide for his son, they have a positive relationship and he is seemingly loved by the people around him. He desires companionship and that is entirely understandable. This sympathetic, and obviously nice, person is then shown to have a darker side. He chooses to find love by objectifying women and deceiving them. The result is him meeting a person who is even more sympathetic but with an even darker side.
There is a message throughout Audition to look deeper than the surface and to think about the consequences of how we treat people. A girl with a history that many women can relate to has lost her ability to love and experiences only pain. Believing the two things to be intrinsically linked, she is a product of the environment around her. The fact that Shigeharu and Yasuhisa abused their positions of power negates any genuine feeling Shigeharu may have for Asami. Could he possibly ever truly love her if he lied to her so they could be together? We are responsible for our own actions and, indeed, the consequences.
Audition is brilliantly acted, throughout. Ryo Ishibashi, as Shigeharu, is excellent. Seemingly very likeable and sympathetic, he manages to display a range of emotions convincingly. The wince inducing final act is made all the more impactful by just how good Ishibashi’s performance is. You feel everything he tries to convey in a horribly visceral manner.
Jun Kunimura is great as concerned friend Yasuhisa, desperate to help Shigeharu find love. Doing an excellent job of emphasising the complexity of the characters of Audition. He never comes across as particularly seedy despite abusing the power he has. Side characters are all really good. Prolific actor Renji Ishibashi, however, is disappointingly wasted in a small, almost b-movie style, villainous role that feels somewhat out of place in the otherwise serious movie.
A Memorable Performance
Special mention has to go to Eihi Shiina as Asami. Shiina is a former model that had limited acting experience before Audition. That she manages to put on such a fantastic, multi faceted, performance is very commendable. Sympathetic, initially, she goes to dark places rarely seen by female performers in the horror genre. One of the reasons I love Japanese horror so much is due to their love of stories feature strong women taking revenge on people and their love for female spirits. Without a doubt, out of all of these amazing characters, Asami is the most fascinating and, perhaps, the most menacing.
So many moments from Shiina’s portrayal of Asami stick with you long after the film is done. Without giving too much away, her smile when Shigeharu phones her is one of the most subtle, yet impactful, parts of the movie. Her entire performance in the last half an hour is, to put it frankly, iconic. Say “kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri” in a high pitched, song like, voice to any veteran horror fan and they will immediately know what you are talking about. That is because Eihi Shiina makes it so memorable. I doubt many people will ever be able to forget Asami after seeing the final act. That is, if they manage to make it to the end of the movie.
I remember catching a showing of Audition on late night TV in the UK not long after its release. Not really knowing what I was watching, I stuck with it as I was a big fan of, basically, anything Japanese. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. The final half an hour of this movie is legitimately disturbing. Apparently, there were walkouts and people collapsing at showings. A woman sauntered up to Takashi Miike at the Rotterdam Film Festival and told him he was disgusting. Naturally Miike was delighted at this. He later went on to direct Ichi the Killer so this was nothing other than a compliment to him.
Of course, stories like this are worn as a badge of honour in the horror community. They are likely embellished to a staggering degree but there is a lot of truth to just how unsettling this movie is. Not softened too muh by time and the release of movies in the “torture porn” genre of horror. Audition is still a tough watch today. The final half an hour is a clinic in uncomfortable viewing. If you are not a fan of graphic violence, dismemberment, and just generally disgusting stuff, you may want to give Audition a miss.
Fantastic practical effects make the events all the more grotesque. The sound crew obviously had a wonderful time on the foley stage as well. No detail was spared when it comes to making the viewer feel nauseous so expect to be shocked. An argument could be made that the events of the final half an hour are needless. Whether this is the case or not, they are iconic and some of the most memorable in horror history.
Is it a Knockout?
Audition is a brutal horror movie with a strong drama leaning and an important message about the consequences of our actions. Slow paced and methodical, for much of its runtime it is a story about a man seeking love and what he will do to find it. The last thirty minutes transform into a disturbing study of the potential consequences of abuse.
Featuring fantastic acting, Eihi Shiina puts on a truly memorable and iconic performance that is sure to stick with the viewer. Despite the obviously disturbing ending, the movie actually has a strong message about the plight of abused women all over the world. The effects and consequences of unforgiving patriarchal societies are placed on display for all to see.
Anyone who is not a fan of slow paced movies may want to give Audition a miss. It is in no rush to get anywhere and the horror element doesn't kick in until late in the movie. Similarly, people with a weak stomach should probably do the same. Some of the scenes are incredibly graphic and likely to cause upset. For everyone else, this is a fantastic horror movie featuring some of the most iconic scenes in modern horror history. Absolutely worth a watch for Eihi Shiina's performance alone.