Production Company: Omega Project
Release: 4 March 2000
Length: 115 min.
- Director: Miike Takashi
- Exective Producers: Yokohama Toyoyuki
- Planning: Shindo Jun’ichi
- Producer: Fukushima Soji, Suyama Akimi
- Screenplay: Tengan Daisuke
- Based on the novel by: Murakami Ryu
- Photography: Yamamoto Hideo
- Music: Endo Koji
- Aoyama Shigeharu: Ishibashi Ryo
- Yamasaki Asami : Shiina Eihi
- Yoshikawa: Kunimura Jun
- Aoyama Ryoko: Matsuda Miyuki
- Shibata: Osugi Ren
- Old Man: Ishibashi Renji
- Aoyama Shigehiko: Sawaki Tetsu
Tale of Beauty As the Beast
Horror films frequently take that which is “other” to our society and rationalizes its “otherness” by demonizing it. Given form, the beast, just as in the case of Frankenstein, may sometimes express the pains of its ostracization, but the horror it prompts ultimately justifies its destruction. One can ask, however, what happens to horror when the beast may be more justified than its destroyer?
That seems to be one of the questions posed by Miike Takashi’s disturbing new film Audition. Aoyama Shigeharu (Ishibashi Ryo) is a middle-aged president of a video production company, left alone with a teen-age son when his wife died seven years before. At his son’s prompting, he finally starts to think about remarrying, but the method he chooses for selecting his potential bride is unusual, to say the least. On the idea of his friend Yoshikawa (Kunimura Jun), he decides to hold an audition, using the excuse of a possibly-to-be-made movie to survey the female field.
Looking at the resumes, he actually comes across one, from a Yamasaki Asami (Shiina Eihi), that peaks his interest. The essay she wrote, relating the loss of her childhood dream (to study ballet) and the specter of death that she faced, shows a maturity the others do not. When it comes to the actual audition, Aoyama ends up ignoring most of the other women, and promptly calls Asami that night.
They seem to hit it off well, with Aoyama eventually deciding to propose to her on a trip to the seashore, but after they sleep together, with Asami asking him to love “only me,” she suddenly disappears. His subsequent search for her only turns up grisly mysteries of missing men and dismembered bodies.
It would be easy to turn Asami into some monstrous female man-eater, but Miike, the veteran of many films about the marginal and displaced, is too concerned with those who don’t fit in society to allow that. Dialogue early in the film equating catching fish to catching women emphasizes the violence of the audition and establishes, even with the sympathy we feel for Aoyama, that he is not free of guilt.
Miike, however, is not content with another Sadako tale of wronged women wreaking revenge. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that Miike offers another of his patented cinematic extravaganzas that underline both the illusory nature of what we see and the ambiguous status of his female “beast.” Asami can be both a monster and an innocent because we frankly don’t know what she really is.
What stands out in the film, scripted by Tengan Daisuke from a Murakami Ryu story, is the shocking emphasis on corporeality. (This is not a film for the queasy!) As in so much of Miike’s work, people are not much above animals, and that is driven home in shot after shot.
The physical may thus seem to offer some basis of certainty - albeit a disagreeable one - in a world where words often lie. But in a story of exchangeable body parts, where media images seem to upset the balance of time and space, that corporeality always threatens to descend into the same ambiguity that pervades the rest of the film. This is horror where our own lack of security is the possibly most disturbing.
Audition’s impact has been tested. While some reportedly walked out of the theater when it was shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival, it still won two prizes, including an illustrious Dutch critics award. With Miike making movies at the rate of three or four a year, and now finally gaining international recognition, one wonders what horrors this enfant terrible will thrust in our face next.
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 9 March 2000, p. 11
Copyright 2000: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow