Sometimes you see a film and you just have to wonder about the person who made it. Such is the case of AUDITION, a Japanese film that must be the result of a bad break-up of a particularly insidious form. I mean, any film that has as its villain a woman scarier than Freddie, Jason and Godzilla put together has got to have a story behind the story that’s at least as interesting as what’s on the screen.
AUDTION, when not plumbing the depths of every man’s worst primal fears about the female of the species, is about Aoyama, a middle-aged widower looking for a new wife. His son is growing up and will soon be gone, and he worries about being alone. He must be worried, so worried that he doesn’t notice his plain-Jane secretary mooning over him or the not-so-subtle hints that his sprightly and not-unattractive housekeeper drops.
His position at a film production company inspires the perfect plan. He’ll audition women for a non-existent film to find exactly what he wants, right age, that would be late 20s, early 30s, talented, and attractive. Naturally he finds one that fits his criteria, a waifish lovely who had to give up ballet because of a hip injury. She writes on her resume that as a result, she now knows how to face death. He’s intrigued. They date. She’s demure, shy and just a little insecure. She’s inordinately grateful for his attention. He’s smitten. But there are warning signs. The place she says she works doesnt exist. The man she lists as a reference has been missing for a year. She only wears white, which in Asian culture is the color of death. And then there’s the wicked smile, which only the audience sees and is scarier than heck, that she smiles when he asks her to come away for the weekend with him. And what exactly is that thing in the bag that she keeps in her apartment, the thing that keeps moving around all by itself?
One thing leads to another and Aoyama ends up paralyzed on his living room floor, but not, as Asami carefully points out, insensible to the exquisite pain she is about to inflict. The which she does with needles and other instruments of torture in chilling cinematic detail. I had to close my eyes at one point, though that didn’t help with the even more chilling sound effects. The squishes, glubs, and screams.
Takashi Miikie, the filmmaker in question, makes on the average of four films a year and he knows what hes about. His casting is on target with Ryo Ishibashi completely sympathetic as the clueless Aoyama, and Eihi Shiina astonishing as she goes from Barbie doll to banshee. His direction is atmospheric, unafraid of odd angles or the long, uninterrupted take as his camera watches dispassionately, whether it’s Aoyama seeing his dead wife warning him about Asamai, or a disembodied tongue wriggling on a floor. The mood is dreamlike, both the first half, which is like a languid stroll towards a sheer cliff, and the last, which is like a scatter-shot nightmare of hallucinogenic images and razor-sharp emotions.
After seeing AUDITION, I longed for a soothing cup of tea and maybe some buttered toast. Maybe a valium. It’s that disturbing. Yet it’s also a first-rate piece of filmmaking worth the aftereffect for all but the most squeamish.