Audition turns tables on male arrogance with torturous pleasure
With Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins, and Yakuza Apocalypse to his name, it seems as clear as blood what you’ll get with a Takashi Miike movie.
But the Japanese director can, amid his brutal, outrageous offerings, show off startling variety: a samurai-classic remake (Hara-Kiri); a magic-realist trip to Yunan province (The Bird People of China); a black-humour musical (The Happiness of the Katakuris).
No career spotlight on Miike is complete without Audition (1999), turning from a slow dissection of egotism and sexism into a home-invasion nightmare.
Its first half is even more chilling now, when allegation after revelation of male moguls sexually intimidating, harassing, and assaulting women in the American TV and film industries have rippled out.
We watch as widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) tries dating again, his movie-producer pal putting together an audition for women to be cast as his new wife. The session is a disturbing mix of awkwardness, the interviewees’ required self-exposure, and the two men’s evaluation.
Men talk of women as menu items or potential property. Shigeharu’s son asks, “Why don’t you get re-married?” Chatting at a bar, after Shigeharu’s buddy calls the movie business “a game of torture,” the pair talk casually and judgmentally about “girls.”
“What kind of female are you looking for?” the friend asks.
After Shigeharu outlines his preferred attributes, he notes, “I’d like to have enough time to observe her. I’d like to see many women, then choose my ideal one.”
This collecting, selecting voyeur is soon picked out and hunted down, though, his own feelings returned, only much more coldly, calculatedly, and violently.
There’s the icy shift from a drama—with fixed camera shots and a lilting score—about manipulation and an idée-fixe romance into a horror-film about fixation, paralysis, and strangulation. (There’s also a particularly Japanese acceptance of loss, wrenched into a fascination with pain, at the crumpled core of Shigeharu’s infatuation.) But it’s one man’s pursuit of one woman who turns out to be so much more of his crazed counterpart than he could have ever feared, which makes Audition so petrifying.
Sun., Dec. 3 (9 pm)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Originally released in 1999