When widower Shigeharu Aoyama's (Ryo Ishibashi, "Brother") son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) begins dating he finds himself ready once again to pursue female companionship. His television producing colleague Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) arranges a fake audition and gets thirty women to respond for Aoyama's perusal, but Aoyama is drawn to the one girl, Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), who makes Yoshikawa nervous in Takashi Miike's "Audition."
Miike's stunning film quickly finds its own groove and pulls you into it, but beware. The film begins as a light, almost playful, romance then slowly builds suspense before pushing through into nightmare territory that might make Lynch and Cronenberg run screaming.
Aoyama is a decent guy who misses his wife Yoko (Miyuki Matsuda). Except for the deception of the audition, the only mark against his character is that he appears to be oblivious (is he really?) to the yearning of an office woman he once slept with. Home life consists of taking care of and being taken care of which Miike ingeniously depicts via a series of phone messages left by son Shigehiko and beagle Ken pattering back and forth after the Aoyamas' housekeeper.
Asami's resume delights Aoyama. He's moved by the accident she says halted her ballet career (a subtle reference to "Suspiria" perhaps?). When the day of the audition arrives, Aoyama lets Yoshikawa do all the talking while he fidgets waiting for Asami's number to be called. The polite, quiet girl arrives clad in bridal white and Aoyama comes to life while director Miike begins to plant the warning signals. Asami's tales of an unhappy childhood cloak a much more horrific background - one that's bred a monster.
Technically and artistically, "Audition" is a masterful piece of work. Cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto ("Hana-bi/Fireworks") puts Asami in a subtle spotlight during her first dinner with Shigeharu, suggesting that this is the real audition (this is further emphasized by an 'audience,' which includes Yoko, who tells Shigeharu he can't have Asami). Inventive camera placement intensifies the early humor and later horror. Editor Yasushi Shimamura balances the current action with flashbacks and flashes of premonition and, with director Miike, keeps us off balance as to which nightmare is reality. Asami speaks of a harmonious family while Shimamura furiously jump cuts. Sound (Kenji Shibazaki) is influenced by Lynch. Koji Endo provides appropriately strange music which runs the gamut from elevator style to the exotic ethnic arrangements found in Werner Herzog films.
Anyone with the stomach for "Audition" will be rewarded with a psychological nightmare that won't be easily forgotten.
When longtime widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) realizes that his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) is old enough to date he decides that it's time he found a mate of his own. His TV producer friend (Jun Kunimura) sets up an audition schedule for 30 pretty young women ostensibly for an acting job, but really with the hidden agenda to find the shy Shigeharu a girlfriend. He becomes smitten with one demure young lady, Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shinna), not realizing that he has made a very bad choice, indeed, in "Audition."
Director Takashi Miike enters the realm of David Lynch and David Cronenberg in this adaptation of Ryu Murakami's script from his novel. It all begins innocently enough as lonely Shigeharu decides it is time to find a new bride. His friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Sawaki) sets up the auditions of prospective spouses using the carrot of an acting job to gather together a bevy of beauties for Aoyama to choose from. The two men interview one pretty lady after another until, all dressed in white, Asami enters the room.
Shigeharu is immediately taken with the pretty young woman, but his friend has serious reservation - prophetically stating "she makes me uneasy." But, the lonely widower turns a deaf ear to his friend and proceeds to make a date with Asami. There is something distinctly odd about her, though, and things she tells Aoyama soon prove to be untrue. He also starts to have disturbing dreams involving a man in a canvas sack with only stubs for legs, three missing fingers, a lopped off ear and no tongue. The dreams, as the short, violent finale begins, are grounded in reality and Shigeharu learns a horrific lesson at the hands of the petite monster maiden that is Asami.
The tone of the film, after the normal-seeming romantic first half, takes on a sinister bent that would be right at home in a David Lynch film. You know something bad is going to happen, but aren't sure what that is. As Asami's true nature comes to the surface, this tone shifts to something akin to a Cronenberg flick as the grisly and unexpected violence takes over in an over-the-top finish. The story is slickly handled by helmer Miike with the film moving along with, first, the auditions and, then, Aoyama's interest in Asami. The one-two punch of the climax is a surprise and a shock, although, as with Lynch, ample insight is given the viewer beforehand.
"Audition," unfortunately, is not going to get the distribution to allow it a broad audience demographic. At best it will have short runs in art house venues but, if you are of a mind (and have a fairly strong stomach for graphic violence) for horror/mystery, this may just be your cup of tea. I give it a B+.
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