Last December, I had an idea. I would use the year of 2010 to watch all those important horror movies I had never seen, the greats, the classics, the Japanese, and then I would write what I thought about them online. From the very beginning, Audition has always been near the top of my list, a movie I would watch, no matter what, by New Years Day. And on October 11th, a mild, Sunday evening, I finally sat down and did it. I watched Takashe Miike’s masterpiece, the film that, reportedly, was too hard to watch for Rob Zombie.
And. . . I’m sorry, fellow horror geeks. I really am, but . . . I was a little disappointed.
*As always, spoilers are only at the end of the review and are clearly marked with advance warning.*
Audition is about a middle-aged man, Shigeharu Aoyama, who decides to remarry, since his last wife died some time ago, and his cheerfully tactless son, Shigehiko, points out that he’s getting old and kind of tired looking and maybe doesn’t want to continue being lonely and miserable until the day he dies. Shigeharu isn’t sure exactly how to go about finding the new missus, though, so his friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, suggests that they hold an audition.
The audition works like so: thirty young, attractive women are gathered together and told that they are auditioning for the lead role in this romantic drama. The lucky lady selected will, in fact, get no such part, but she will get herself a husband, which, of course, is the only thing that really matters to a woman. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan.
Well, in fact, something does go wrong with that plan: Shigeharu develops quite the crush on beautiful, young Asami, who, while seeming to respond positively to his attentions, is also, unfortunately, just this side of totally psychotic. Let that be a lesson to you, next time you try to dupe thirty innocent women into thinking they have a chance at money and fame. Asshat.
Audition has a very slow build. If you had never heard of this movie before and started randomly watching it on HBO or something, you could easily be forgiven for not knowing you were watching a horror film. Even when creepy clues start appearing that Asami may not be the “beautiful, classy, obedient” wife that Shigeharu was hoping for, you might still think that you were watching a subtle, psychological thriller and be entirely unprepared for the sheer, unapologetic violence that happens at the end of this film. I don’t object to the pace at all—the build works well with the subject matter, and certain reveals are wonderfully creepy and clever. The dialogue is sharp and often very funny, even with some questionable translation. (For example, what exactly does Asami mean when she worries that Shigeharu will find her to be a “heavy woman?” Are we talking a fat woman? An emotionally-weighed down, needy woman? In the context of the conversation, a “heavy woman” seems like a very strange choice of words.) The acting is all well done, and I take no issue with what most people find controversial about the movie: the torture. (Violence has to be pretty damn gratuitous to offend someone like me. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible. Well, it probably is, but I can’t think of a good example at the moment.) Audition is, overall, smart and shocking and complex, and I really, really enjoyed it . . . except . . .
Things change pretty dramatically in the last twenty minutes of the film, and while I can’t entirely voice my concerns outside of the spoiler section, I can tell you that Miike radically switches his almost sedate, linear thriller into a surrealistic nightmare that doesn’t at all balance with the film that’s been showing thus far. It’s twenty minutes of the audience trying to figure out what the fuck is happening, and while I can enjoy some of that in a film (read: Donnie Darko) it’s a pretty hard switch to pull at the last minute. More importantly, though, I have a lot of problems with the changes made to the internal logic of the film, particularly with characters suddenly knowing things that they had no way of possibly knowing. I’ll discuss this more in the Spoiler Section, but I honestly think that some of the horror was lost in the WTF confusion, and that while a lot of these scenes were visually interesting and/or horrifying, the resolution and, in fact, the entire story, suffered dearly for it.
1.) As I mentioned before, I really did like a good deal of the dialogue. Yasuhisa is particularly funny, and I easily could have quoted at least half the stuff that came out of his mouth, although I think this is my favorite line: “Happy people can’t act well.”
However Yasuhisa does not have the best line. That honor, surprisingly, goes to Shigeharu. When his geektastic son points out that the fish they caught had ovaries, Shigeharu makes a kind of thoughtful grunting noise before admitting, “I don’t know much about ovaries.”
Truer words were never spoken by a man.
2.) Even though he has the best line, Shigeharu, like so many film or television protagonists, is kind of a weiner. He refuses to listen to anyone’s concerns about his new beloved, and when Yasuhisa rightfully chides him for the depth of his infatuation and emotional dependency on Asami, Shigeharu proves to be a whiny bitch about the whole thing. (See, he was all proud before, all “If there’s any trouble, I can solve it,” failing to understand that there’s a critical difference between believing that you can be anything you want to be, just like your mommy told you, and believing that you can control any silly woman who comes before you—the critical difference being that the latter belief turns you into an insufferable jackass. Shigeharu, here’s a tip: the Greeks talked about this little thing called ‘hubris.’ They made a whole bunch of plays about it. Look them up sometime, and pay critical attention to the way that they all ended, thanks.)
3.) Shigeharu has to browse through the photos and profiles of hundreds of beautiful women, as he can only select thirty to show up for the audition. In the middle of doing this, he stops to take a longing gaze at the framed photo of his dead wife. Guess what, Shigeharu? You’re not going to find to your dead spouse at the audition. Assclown. I kind of hope that she’s a little horrified with you too, particularly after you say flattering things like picking up a new wife is like “buying your first car.” Gee. Such sentimentality, Shigeharu. I’ve got, like, a tear here. Although, to be fair, he does have the decency to point out that he “feels like a criminal” at the beginning of the audition.
As you should, Shigeharu. As you should.
4.) The questions that Shigeharu and Yasuhisa ask at the audition are hilarious. There are semi-professional questions asked, such as stuff like “have you ever acted before,” “what actresses do you like,” “are you attached to an agency,” etc. etc.
And then there are questions like these:
“Have you ever had sex with anyone you didn’t like?”
“What’s your father’s job?”
“Are you interested in drugs?”
And my personal favorite:
“Are you psychic?”
Also, when one girl admits to having previously worked in the adult film industry, Yasuhisa makes sure to keep her for “another job.” Heh.
5.) Some of the camerawork in Audition is interesting. Miike seems to favor long shots–there are tons of them in the film. Asami also isn’t shot from the front a lot, at least, not in the beginning. We see her photo early on, but it takes awhile before we get a direct close up on her face.
6.) I kind of like the characterization of the son, Shigehiko. He doesn’t have nearly as much to do as as Shigeharu or Asami, but there are just little details thrown in that keep him from being completely without character. The scene with him and his potential girlfriend is amusing, and the big thumbs-up of approval that Shigeharu sends his son’s way is funny as hell. The dynamic between the two is interesting.
7.) Shigehiko and Shigeharu are not the only two who live in the house. There’s also a housekeeper, Rie (well, I’m not sure if she’s a live-in maid, but she’s definitely there a lot) and a cute, little dog who runs around the house for most of the movie. Now, I will not tell you if our suspicious were founded or not, but the second we see that dog being all cute and adorable and zipping around, Mekaela turns to look at me.
Mekaela: That dog’s going to get killed.
Carlie: . . . no bet.
I’m just saying, cute little animals do not tend to fare well in movies like these.
8.) Rie the Housekeeper has a pretty good line, herself: “Men can’t maintain without female support.” Honestly, this film’s just interesting from a gender studies perspective, alone.
9.) There are, as I mentioned before, a number of extremely cringe-worthy scenes in Audition. One of them actually put me off eating for hours afterwards. I won’t say here what happened in that scene, but I will tell you that it included vomit, and that is is exceedingly hard to make me physically nauseous while watching a horror film. Honestly, I don’t think it’s ever happened before. Ever. By the next morning, I was fine, but every time I thought about that scene later that night, my stomach felt distinctly queasy. So, I tip my hat to you, Miike. I have some serious problems with your movie, but you certainly got a visceral reaction from me; I’ll give you that.
10.) Finally, a friendly word of advice: when someone makes you promise to “love me, only me” . . . ask for clarification, please.
And now, some massive spoilers.
First, the dog totally bit it.
Second, if you’re a My Chemical Romance fan, they did a music video to the song, “Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough For The Two of Us” that pretty much recreates it the whole film in three minutes, although the ending is different.
Now, the first scene to clue you into the fact that Asami is totally nutso goes like this: against all advice, Shigeharu calls Asami. Asami, who’s all hunched over on the floor and sitting perfectly still like she might have been just sitting there, waiting, for days, lifts her head slowly and smiles as the phone rings, clearly knowing that Shigeharu would inevitably call. She doesn’t desperately scramble for the phone, the way you expect her to. In fact, she doesn’t even pick the phone up at all, just smiles in a creepy ass manner that alerts you to the fact that everything is already going according to plan. This might have been frankly disturbing all on its own, but what really makes it eeep-worthy is this huge sack on the floor behind her. You’re staring at the sack, thinking, Oh no, I bet that’s ex-boyfriend Billy’s mutilated body in there . . . and then the huge sack starts rocking around violently.
Asami and Shigeharu date for awhile before eventually going away for the weekend together. While Shigeharu blathers on about all the couply things they can go out and do, Asami just wants to take off her clothes and make mad monkey love. Okay, so maybe the whole seduction is restrained and quiet and no one actually uses the phrase “mad monkey love” but to hell with it. The point is, Asami gets what she wants. Shigeharu sees Asami’s scarred body, then sleeps with her, then wakes up to find her missing.
Shigeharu, naturally, is forced to investigate, only to discover that the place Asami supposedly works at has been closed for a year, because Asami’s friend who supposedly ran the bar was found hacked up into little pieces. Shigeharu also discovers that there were too many pieces—specifically, an extra tongue, an eye, and two feet—and considering that Asami’s personal contact for the audition has also been missing for a year . . . yep, things aren’t looking too good for Director Shibata, either.
In his quest for the truth, Shigeharu also discovers Asami’s utterly creepy and gross stepfather, and it’s about that time, with ugly hints to Asami’s abused past and current penchant for cutting off body parts, that Shigeharu’s like, fuck this; I’m going home and drinking myself into a coma. Sadly for him, Asami has quietly stolen away into his house and doctored his alcoholic beverage of choice, so that when Shigeharu drinks it, he passes out . . . and then . . .
. . . things get weird.
Shigeharu starts to fall backward. As he hits the ground, Miike cuts away to this whole nightmare vision world where all manner of wacky and disturbing things start happening. (And I’m probably not going to remember these things in order, so, sorry, peoples, but it’s not like half of it makes sense anyway.) In one scene, Shigeharu starts talking to Asami at a restaurant. This scene already happened in the movie, but when Shigeharu asks Asami about her family and childhood, she answers differently than she did before, more honestly, I guess. For awhile, I thought that maybe we were seeing previous events from Asami’s POV, like maybe she’s so delusional that what she thought she was saying and what she actually said were two entirely different things.
That idea’s quickly proven wrong, though, when we start getting scenes of things that obviously could never happen, for instance, when Shigeharu introduces Asami to his Dead Wife, and Dead Wife starts shaking her head, all, “Oh, no, sweetie. Oh, no. She’s the DEVIL.” Shigeharu also starts witnessing things he couldn’t possibly know, like flashbacks to Asami’s childhood, and just what exactly is in that sack that’s rolling around in her apartment.
This scene alone merits some serious discussion, because this is the scene I mentioned before that literally made me a little nauseous after watching the film. Back at Asami’s pad: Asami is leaning over a counter, making sounds like she’s throwing up. She then comes over with a dog bowl in her hands. To me, the dog bowl looks like it’s full of some kind of watery porridge, which might have been my brain refusing to connect the vomit sounds with the bowl’s yummy contents in order to protect my sanity. I didn’t realize that the dog bowl was full of puke until after the movie had ended, and frankly, I’m glad for my little, obtuse moment, because I was nauseous enough after the film was over.
Anyway, Asami puts the dog bowl of her own vomit on the ground and lets Director Shibata out of his sack. Director Shibata is, of course, missing his feet, his tongue, and one of his eyes. This does not stop him from hungrily lapping up all the vomit.
In a word: ohmygodewohmygodewohmyGODEWWWWWWWWW!
Mekaela also did not realize that the man was eating puke, and I’m not sure I did her any favors when I informed her of this fact, considering that she felt even queasier than I did about the whole thing. Unhappy with these feelings, she wrote this email to me, which I am now posting here, with her permission:
About that last part: Mek has never been able to watch Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs; she always turns away. Naturally, I mock her about this every chance I get.
Here, Mek. It’s all about the baby steps.
A side note about the vomit in Audition before I continue on with the review. According to imdb trivia, the puke in the movie is real, as Eihi Shiina is, apparently, super method. This led to an online discussion on some forum or other about whether the Director was actually eating real puke, which I found terribly amusing. Somebody mentioned in a review that while Shiina may have puked into a dog bowl for the film, Takashi Miike probably didn’t make the poor actor in the sack eat the vomit just because Shiina is a method actor. And if they did, remind me to never star in a Japanese horror film, no matter how damn iconic it becomes.
Okay. Eventually, we come out of all these surrealistic flashes and back to what I’m just going to assume is present time. Asami has dosed Shigeharu with some kind of fictional paralytic that won’t allow him to move but will allow him to feel pain, and muchly. Asami then starts sticking a shitload of needles in his chest and face, all the while sing-songing, “Kiri kiri kiri,” or, as the English subtitles tell all of us who don’t speak Japanese, “Deeper deeper deeper.” This could be the best example that I’ve ever seen of why you should watch a film with subtitles instead of the dubbed version. I’m sure someone could say, “Deeper deeper deeper” in a completely creepy manner, but the way that Asami repeats “kiri” over and over again (which, to the untrained American ear, amusingly sounds a lot like someone saying, “kitty kitty kitty”) is disturbingly awesome on an epic scale. I really didn’t mention acting much in this review, but method apparently works well for Eihi Shiina, because she ROCKS this role.
Somewhere in the middle of all this torture, Shigeharu starts having his trippy ass visions again. Maybe it’s supposed to be a response to pain? Maybe he’s experiencing all these visions the entire time she’s torturing him? There’s an argument to be made for that, sort of, but it certainly doesn’t explain everything. Anyway, Shigeharu watches Asami return to her creepy stepfather and cut off his head with a piano wire that can “cut through meat and bone easily.”
When we return back to the present, Asami cuts off one of Shigeharu’s feet, telling him the same things she told the stepfather. She starts to work on the other foot, but unfortunately, that’s when Shigehiko walks in. Asami quickly hides, so that Shigehiko can find his father on the floor. His reaction is interesting; in fact, he almost doesn’t react at all. Clearly in shock, he’s like a little kid who can’t quite understand why his dad might be lying on the floor with a whole bunch of needles in his body and one of his feet cut off, like there may be some rational explanation for this that he just doesn’t quite comprehend yet. It’s a really excellent parallel to the beginning of the film, where he walks into his mother’s hospital room, arms full with this gift that he’s brought for her, and kind of just stands there staring at her dead body. Finally, all he says is something like, “I brought this for Mom.” I think, when Shigehiko finds his father, the first thing he says is, rather blankly, “What’s wrong, Dad?”
I’m saying, geeky and cute as Shigehiko is, he may not be terribly useful in a crisis.
Anyway, Asami comes out of her hiding place and starts attacking him with . . . mace? I’m just going to assume it’s mace, although, I gotta tell you: from the shape of the bottle and the way the actor responds to it, it looks for all the world like Asami’s attacking him with a squirt bottle full of water, like you might do to a cat who’s chewing up your beloved plants. I must admit, that image took a little of the tension away from the scene for me, and their chase around the house ends relatively quickly when Shigehiko kicks Asami down the stairs, incapacitating her if not outright killing her.
The film ends with Shigeharu and Asami looking at each other on the floor, and Asami begins speaking dialogue that they both said earlier in the film: “You are the first one to support me, warmly wrapping me, and trying to understand me. It’s hard to forget about. But someday you’ll feel . . . that life is wonderful. That’s life, isn’t it?”
And . . . fin.
I wanted to like this movie so much, I did. And I really, really thought a lot of the elements were brilliantly executed, and that this was almost the movie I was hoping it would be. I’m not a huge fan of movies where nothing makes sense, and there ends up being a lot of debate on what’s real and what’s a dream and so on and so forth, but there are exceptions to that rule, and this might have been one of them. I could have dealt with the sudden change in non-linear storytelling, and I could have taken the fantasy sequences as pure hallucinations, and I could have even taken the flashbacks to Asami’s childhood and the murder of Asami’s stepfather as stuff that Shigeharu was imagining based on what he knew about her horrible past.
But there is no way, no way, that Shigeharu could have hallucinated Director Shimada in that bag.
Shigeharu knows that the Director is missing, so he could have imagined that Asami has kept him alive and inflicted torture upon him in the same way that she’s inflicting torture upon Shigeharu now. He could even have hallucinated the dog bowl of vomit, if he’s a particularly sick individual who would even think to conjure something like that. But he can’t know that Asami is keeping Shimada in a huge sack in her apartment, because he never saw her apartment. The audience saw the sack, so we know that, whether anything else in these visions are real or not, there’s really something rolling around in that huge ass bag in her home. But Shigeharu has no way of knowing that, so for him to see it in this nightmare or whatever . . . it means he’s suddenly been blessed with some kind of omniscient perspective which makes no sense in respect to the rest of the film and completely changes the laws given to you in this particular fictional universe.
This may seem like a trivial thing to harp on, but to me, that damn oversized burlap sack costs Miike the whole film. The best grade I can give this movie is a very tentative B, and I’ve got to say, I’m not even sure it should get a grade that high. I loved so very much about this movie, but in the midst of chaos, there has to be certain laws that ground your story, laws that allow the viewer to suspend their disbelief, no matter how strange or crazy that story might be. I couldn’t do that here. There was no reason for Shigeharu to see the Director in that bag, other than to give the audience the grossest scene in the movie. I can deal with the vomit, deal the violence, but even in scary movies, the aesthetics of horror cannot come before the internal logic of a story. Not if you’re trying to make a really good film, which I believe Miike almost, almost did.
Tentative Grade: B
Moral of the Story: Find your wife through match.com, just like everyone else. Oh, and when your friend’s spider sense is tingling about your new lady . . . listen to them. Jackass.