Well, that wasn't what I'd expected.
I'd heard a fair bit about Takashi Miike's Audition. It got a record number of walkouts at the Rotterdam Film Festival, at which a woman shouted at Miike, "You're evil!" Horror directors including John Landis and Rob Zombie have admitted to finding it hard to watch. I knew that it started quite slowly, but ended up pretty damn gross. It's notorious even by the standards of Miike, a director famous for his films of bizarre sexual perversions and lurid violence like Ichi the Killer
This is all true, but also completely the wrong way to approach this film. Miike isn't just a gore fiend. His work is remarkable for its depth, thoughtfulness and themes, despite him working in all kinds of different genres and turning out movies at an extraordinary rate. His most prolific year to date is eight films in 2002. Audition was based on a novel by Ryu Murakami and that in itself should tell you something. It's not one of those stories seemingly written by the special effects team. Instead it's a disturbing and oddly touching film about men, women and the lies we tell each other. Feminist critics have had something to say about the way in which certain characters seem to embody classical feminine stereotypes, but I thought that was deliberate. This is a film with a great deal to say about its subject matter. It's all about the contrasts between other people's assumptions, the lies we put out for public consumption and the underlying reality. When it comes to our sex lives, the world in our heads never quite corresponds to what's really out there. If you're healthy and well-balanced, the differences will be small. If not... well, that's when things go bad.
Besides, it's not as if the cast's sins go unpunished.
The film begins with Aoyama at his wife's deathbed. Flash forward ten years and his teenage son is starting to take an interest in girls and suggesting that his father remarry. Good idea, thinks Aoyama. However where should I find my Mrs Right? Leave it to me, says his friend in the movie industry, and organises a hoax audition for a film that will never get made. Go through the applicants. Choose the girl you like best. Still in your role as this film's producer, phone her up. What could be simpler? I don't know about you, but personally I'm creeped out already.
The auditions themselves are funny, but after that our hero doesn't realise until too late just how far he's getting in over his head. He's a nice guy. He's normal, even a little shy. You'll like him. He had exactly the same reservations with the whole idea that I'd have had, although not enough to stop him going through with it.
The girl herself, played by Eihi Shiina, is one of those people who can look scary and sinister just sitting on a chair. Brrr. It soon becomes obvious that her character is psychotically disturbed, but she's not presented simply as a monster. We get to know her as a person. Eventually we learn enough to know exactly what she is and why she's doing it. You'll think you know what's coming, even though in fact you really won't. That's why she's so scary. Frankly, this film isn't so bad on a simple gore level. Even a standard slasher film will be more gruesome. What it does instead is to present a realistic, involving story that only turns brutal once you've become emotionally involved with the characters and are treating it as a proper movie instead of watching it in beer-swilling "cool, a head just exploded" mode.
There's even some rubber reality, which works better than anywhere else I can remember. I hate rubber reality! However here it's used as: (a) a device to comment on the movie's themes and the characters' life choices so far, (b) a reflection of our hero's drugged state, (c) a novel way of increasing the tension since there's always the chance that this particular horrible thing we're watching might turn out to be real. This is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, even for Miike. There's nothing rushed or incomplete about it, despite being one of seven films he released that year. On the contrary, it's technically impressive in every way as well as being pretty much the textbook definition of "unforgettable".
This isn't a particularly fun film. It's serious-minded and has worthwhile things to say. Its problem is that it gets too nasty for the arthouse crowd, but it's too serious for the gorehounds.
Recommended. I've heard this called easily Miike's best movie, although of course it's not for everyone.