This is a guest post from contributor William Torrence.
I’ve always been a fan of older horror movies. I love the look of the film quality, the not-so-perfect audio mixing, and the reliance of practical effects and tense pacing that make a lot of these overlooked films hidden gems. Takashi Miike’s 1999 film Audition is a glowing, gory example.
I went into this film knowing nothing. I hadn’t seen the trailer, nor had I read anything about it. In fact, I wouldn’t have expected it to be horror at all, as it starts out quite nicely, masquerading as a romance—a romantic comedy, even. But then things get stranger. Darker. More twisted. And slowly it melds before your eyes into the topic of your next therapy session.
The film opens with Shigeharu Aoyoma (Ryo Ishibashi) beside his bedridden wife in a hospital. This moment is cut short when she suddenly flatlines, leaving Shigeharu a single father to their seven-year-old son. Another seven years pass, and his son recommends he move on by marrying another woman; he looks “worn out.” The father poses the suggestion to his friend and coworker, film producer Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura).
Yasuhisa, perhaps a bit too quickly, hatches a plan to help Shigeharu find the perfect woman—by holding an audition, under the guise that the role is the heroine in a feature film. This way, Shigeharu can set the parameters of his ideal woman: unrealistically beautiful, highly educated and clever, much too young for him, and desperate for a leg up in life.
In fairness, the ruse belongs to Yasuhisa, and Shigeharu participates passively at first. He doesn’t evoke malice, rather, ignorance. But Shigeharu is a man of privilege, and by using his position of power to cast an unsuspecting woman—who’s under the impression this could be career defining—into a nonexistent role, then expect her to agree that dating him is an acceptable alternative is . . . delusional. But Shigeharu maintains hope that the perverted scheme will work.
And it does. The headshot of twenty-four-year-old Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) is enough to infatuate Shigeharu, who promptly attempts to court the young actress with a few dates. Within a matter of days, he’s ready to propose. It doesn’t matter that her stories have holes and her background check leads only to people who are presumed missing or dead—her soft-spoken nature and reciprocated affections are more than enough.
When the besotted couple spend a night together, Asami makes Shigeharu swear that he will love her and only her forever—which of course he does. But when he wakes, Asami has dipped, crushing him. Her disappearance sends him on a determined search, but every little detail about her life she’s provided lead him nowhere. Wrought with self-pity, Shigeharu accepts the fact that he is an old man who was made a fool by a young woman (whom he was attempting to swindle in the first place.)
As Shigeharu is giving up hope, he discovers the old, boarded-up ballet studio that Asami had referenced in one of her stories, ostensibly the one hint that doesn’t lead to a dead end. Lurking is an old man in a wheelchair who seems to know something sinister about Asami but withholds anything of use. Shigeharu protests but leaves when the old man stands up on two prosthetic feet and threatens him.
The film, albeit dark in both tone and visuals at this point, sinks to a shade of Vantablack for its jaw-dropping, squirm-in-your-seat climax. Who is auditioning whom?
Audition is an absolute trip of passion and mutilation. Its unnerving imagery and enjoyable characters paired with mystery and enough blood to quench a vampire frat party is a refreshing example of 90s horror at the turn of the century. Miike’s clever commentary of gender roles and the socioeconomic disparities of Japan left me ready to rewatch this smartly disturbing feature. And perhaps check on the space below my eyes.
About the Author
William Torrence is an avid horror fan, as feeling fear is better than his usual state of feeling nothing at all. When he isn’t working on his own films, he enjoys long walks down the middle of the freeway.