Aha! I have made it! As much as I have not seen many films from Japanese cinema, Takashi Miike is a name I know all too well after being forced to view one of his more auteur pieces. I seem to have been talking about auteurs more often than not during this marathon, but out of all of them Miike is the only one who has been acclaimed as such. Miike’s extreme violence as shown in films like Ichi the Killer is certainly what forces him into a more niche audience, and I would say after Ichi the Killer I just wasn’t that audience no matter how absurd and well-acted it was. Many say Tarantino is the master of violence, and that may be true for action films, but Miike has proven time and again horror violence and psychological horror is his forte. Yet it is hard to argue that point when he is so well rounded with films like 13 Assassins also in his filmography. Day 10 has given me yet another one of his films to view, and I am just mentally preparing myself for the shock that will most likely be Audition.
Wow this is a surprisingly slow burn of a horror film, one that takes its time to set up the tension and then to shove everything it has in your face for its final act. Audition is darkly familiar as an idea, but the execution and the visceral pain within the film is recognizable only to it. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widowed man with a son, and is kind of wafting around through life. His friend, Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), wants to help his friend when he talks about how he wants to find someone to be with and openly states that they will use the casting auditions for his new film to find someone. Enter the misogynistic downward spiral that ultimately ends in terror as Aoyama finds the perfect woman on his checklist, but that very perfection he sought turns into a nightmare.
Miike has truly made a “revenge” story that has chilled me to my very bones and certainly forces me to rethink the prospects of dating. While some could say Aoyama has his comeuppance for such lines as “It’s like buying my first car”, going so far as the film did kind of defeats in my eyes the purpose of the revenge. Since there is none! She doesn’t know what he says behind closed doors and he has done nothing to her, the girl is just a product of child abuse and that pain turning her into this deprived individual who only comes alive when she finds someone else to “love”. The film as a whole is like watching a man, who while being misogynistic and stupid, get his comeuppance in a way that makes you think “he’s really not that horrible a guy to deserve this”. A good revenge story allows you to feel awkward about the revenge. Audition is primarily a tale of circumstance that is discussing misogyny in a more karmic sense. It truly is hard to pin down the entire purpose of the film, especially in its final act no matter how much they building up to it.
The character of Asami Yamazaki portrayed by Eihi Shiina is the main antagonist of the film, and the avenging angel when we you see the multiple images of her on the internet with needles and piano wire. The best word I could use to describe her would probably be a siren, as she sings her song and clearly waits for Aoyama to make the move. She is not stupid and she is quite the intelligent character who knows what to say and how to say it. Make no mistake, this girl is all types of crazy one brought about by child abuse and eventually growing into a desire to be loved and not lied to. Shiina is just terrifying and the film portrays her in such a way that you become almost conditioned to a word she says and how she said it truly imprints it into your mind. She is a tragic character and one that truly feels like a product of her upbringing. There is this vulnerability yet also steel to the performance that makes you question the morality of the situation, and that it is completely credited to Shiina’s acting. I haven’t seen many performances that bring out this kind of terror in me, and Asami is definitely going down on my short list.
The other performances in the film, while not as highlighted as Asami, carry its opening sections particularly in the performances of Ishibashi & Kunimura. The banter of those two back and forth is, while at times cringe worthy for how they view the original situation allows this film to be grounded in both reality and in some sense of tragedy since I couldn’t entirely say that the character of Aoyama deserves what is coming to him. I don’t think most people do, and Ishibashi through his many scenes of compassion and at times desperation make you feel for the man despite his transgressions.
The entire film as a whole is kind of generic until its 3rd act, and oh boy does it enter into arthouse territory with the last act. That is where I think Audition works its magic on us, there is this tension through every scene we are witnessed to with Asami. We know its there, the people around Aoyama know its there but he is to blinded by his crush to see the truth smacking him in his face. There are moments in the film where you can clearly see his misogyny manifest itself in physical actions or even in the last act. It is this weird spiral of desire that throws a lot of ideas at you in a very brief amount of time and while some do stick others need repeat viewings to discern their true nature. Yet like Miike’s style, this is a film I have no intention of returning to any time soon. Everything feels spot on, and a lot of the questions you have through its opening acts are slightly answered in the end. Why is the secretary staring longingly at Aoyama? What is the true extent of Asami’s abuse? What am I supposed to feel?
Audition as a whole is an oddity, and that is what makes me just confused at times. It is really well directed and that finale is certainly one to remember, and it makes sure you remember. Though there is this underlying feeling of, I don’t exactly know what they were going for. Was this a film about child abuse? Was it about a karmic justice against misogyny? Was it talking about the grey morality of revenge stories? There are so many angles one can tackle this from, and at times it often contradicts those very angles. There are layers to be unearthed with a film like this and while I didn’t grasp everything initially it makes me want to think about its messages more than the average horror film. That is where Miike is at his most fascinating, where he uses brutality in a sense to cause confusion and discussion about his piece and it worked so much better in this film than it did in Ichi the Killer. Audition made me cringe, it baffled me, it confused my perception on revenge, but all in all it managed to keep me glued to the screen well into its traumatic finale.
Ichi the Killer (2001) – This is Miike’s ode to violence in a way that is completely in the vein of an exploitation film much along the lines of Audition but far more extreme. Certainly not one I give out as a recommendation in good conscience but if you are interested in Miike’s work this is one of his more prolific ones. This film in particular does not have a build up to the harsh reality but rather is completely seeped into it and at times it is disgusting to no end, but there is something there in the film that is just distinct to Miike as a filmmaker and probably one of the works that has given him auteur status. Just don’t make this the first film in his style, this is a recommendation to those who think they can handle some of his darkest material.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) – Tarantino’s bloody tribute to a revenge flick is all about the style and the empowering lead role depicted by Uma Thurman. I’m certain many of you have heard about this film and its pop culture status in the early 2000s. This is a very fun and rewarding revenge story, but one that also tries to be just to shove in some of that grey morality to make it also an interesting watch as well as a visual splendor.
This is certainly one that took a while to get through, thankfully I still managed to have it done before the end of the day. Hopefully my thoughts came across about how confusing this film is as a whole. Especially in how you are supposed to interpret it, by feeling both sympathy for its two leads. I know I won’t be sleeping tonight. So have you ever watched a Takashi Miike film? What did you think about it? Please leave a comment down below and have yourself a great day!