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  |     CalvinMcMillin's Review    |     Magicvoice's Review    |     notes      |     awards     |     availability     |  

Eihi Shiina attends the unfortunate Audition.
  AKA: Odishon (Japanese Title)    
  Year: 1999    
  Director: Takashi Miike    
  Producer: Akemi Suyama, Satoshi Fukushima    
  Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Miyuki Matsuda, Renji Ishibashi, Jun Junimura
The Skinny: Some would call Audition a daring social commentary about the way men mistreat women in modern society. Others might call it yet another sick and twisted film from director Takashi Miike. Actually, it's both.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      If you have any desire whatsoever to watch Takashi Miike's Audition, I strongly encourage you to stop reading this review right now. Instead, go out and rent, borrow, or (if you're brave) buy the DVD right this instant. Don't look at any reviews, don't read the back of the box, don't look at the pictures, and above all, do not watch the trailer. Doing any one of these things will spoil the full impact of the film. The best way to watch this movie is with absolutely no clue as to what it's about.
     Still with me? Okay, I warned you. At first glance, the plotline of Audition resembles your run-of-the-mill Hollywood romantic comedy. Sparked by his teenage son's encouragement, middle-aged widower and all-around swell guy Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) begins to look for a new wife. Upon the suggestion of his movie industry pal Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), our hero agrees to take part in calling an audition for a new film, but with the ulterior motive of finding himself an "ideal woman." Of the thirty young prospects, only one captures Aoyama's interest - the beautiful, demure Asami (fashion model Eihi Shina in her debut role). We've all seen enough She's All That-inspired crap to guess what might happen next: the two lovebirds quickly fall for each other, but when Asami learns that the audition was a ruse, she dumps our protagonist. Naturally, Aoyama then spends the rest of the movie trying to win her back - which he does and the two marry. So in the end, Aoyama has a wife for himself and a mother for his son. Everybody's happy. The end.
     Well, not quite. In fact, nothing remotely like that happens in Audition, which is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this genre-bending feature film. At every turn, Miike subverts the expectations of the romantic comedy. If there is such a thing as a contract between the filmmaker and the audience, Miike not only blacks out a few sections here and there, but shreds the whole document by movie's end. Instead of recycling the traditional "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" plotline, Miike and company have Asami simply disappear from the narrative altogether after spending the night with Aoyama. In turn, he fanatically searches for her, uncovering clue after clue as he investigates Asami's troubled past. At the climax, Aoyama plunges headfirst into the abyss in a Grand Guignol-style finale that is just as dizzying as Mullholland Drive and ten times as disturbing as anything Hannibal Lecter ever cooked up.
     Though many will have a problem with Audition's shocking final act due to its graphic violence, my only quibble is with the dream sequence that occurs prior to that portion. In this hallucinatory episode, Aoyama must deal with three aspects of his life: the real (his inner guilt over his treatment of women), the imagined (his dead wife's warnings), and the speculative (Asami's dark secrets). Though the scene ties together many of the loose strands of the narrative together in a very unobtrusive way, I was initially confused because Aoyama sees things that he could not possible have any knowledge of (Asami's dirty laundry bag for example). Though I understand the necessity of the scene in terms of putting all the pieces together, I also felt it was a slight bit of "cheating" since the film is not about supernatural or psychic experiences, but the all-too-real horrors of actual existence.
     In any case, no matter how much you know about the film beforehand, Audition still packs a strong visceral punch and even contains a powerful moral message beneath its grotesque exterior. Even if some male viewers don't fully grasp Audition as a harsh critique on sexism, at least they might refrain from taking so-called "subservient" Asian women too lightly. If Audition is any indication, the results could be fatal. (Calvin McMillin, 2002)
Alternate Review
     Good horror/suspense films are like cinematic car wrecks. You don't like what you're seeing, but you just can't look away because looking may get you just a little closer to that dark part of the human psyche that - for most of us - is just out of reach. Audition is one of those films.
     The story concerns a middle-aged widower named Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi), who has spent the years following his wife's death raising his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) alone. It appears that he is a hard worker and all-around nice guy who likes to spend quiet evenings at home with Gangu the family Beagle. His only failing is eventually succumbing to the pressure put on him by his son and friends to start dating and find a new wife. He finally agrees to take part in a phony audition where the women believe they are trying out for a movie but are really being screened as a potential mate.
     At the audition, Shigeharu sees many women, all of whom seem to suffer from some form of personality disorder, sometimes with comical results. After a while it seems that Shigeharu will never find a "normal" girl. Viewers may find themselves wondering where exactly the movie is going, as it seems to be taking a long time to get there.
     Then Shigeharu meets Asami (Eihi Shiina). Asami is a shy and slightly depressed woman who appears to be an old fashioned girl who could make a wonderful wife for Shigeharu. The two begin dating under false pretenses but Asami eventually falls for Shigeharu. That's when the trouble begins.
     Around the time Shigeharu proposes marriage, director Takashi Miike begins intercutting flashbacks in which we learn that Asami is anything but normal. She insists on Shigeharu following a specific rule within their relationship: he must love only her without exception. This rule extends to Shigeharu's family, and when Asami suspects that Shigeharu has broken the rule, she punishes him in a very sadistic way.
     Whether or not all of this is real or simply the dream of a man who is afraid to re-marry is ambiguous. All of this is expressed through editing which makes it entirely unclear up until the last possible moment what exactly is going on. This approach eradicates the slow pacing of the first third of the film. Without the long set up, the rest of the film wouldn't pack the punch that it does.
     The final act contains images so disturbing that they may permanently etched in the viewer's brain. The events of Audition have the ability to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and even filthy. If you feel like you need a shower after watching this excellent thriller, don't say you weren't warned. (Magicvoice 2002)
Notes: Based on a Ryu Murakami novel.
Awards: 2001 Fantasporto
• International Fantasy Film Award - Special Mention (Takashi Miike)
2000 Rotterdam Film Festival
• FIPRESCI Award (for the film's narrative freedom, technical mastery of genre and the inventiveness of an important new and prolific director)(Takashi Miike)
Circle of Dutch Film Journalists
• KNF Award (Takashi Miike)
Availability: DVD (United States)
Region 1 NTSC
American Cinematheque
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
Interview with Takeshi Miike
Director's Commentary
image courtesy of American Cinematheque
 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen