It’s been far too long since I last watched a horror movie. It’s been even longer since I’ve watched a horror movie for the first time. The amount of times I fire up Netflix of Shudder before just watching a movie I’ve seen for the millionth time is almost immeasurable at this point (Editor’s Note: to give perspective on my glacial posting pace, I’ve watched three horror flicks and the entirety of Shudder’s The Core since I wrote those sentences). But alas, motivation (if you want to call it that) struck me and I felt the need to watch something extreme, gory, uncomfortable, and most importantly, new. So obviously, I chose a movie that came out almost two decades ago.
Audition is one of the movies that launched long-time weirdo and ultra prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike career in the Western world. It follows Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who after his wife died, is looking for companionship again. Working for a video production company with his friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), they decide to stage auditions to find a lead heroine for fake movie so that Aoyama can take his pick from the hundreds of ladies who come out to meet with them. He ends up falling for a very shy ex-ballerina, Asami (Eihi Shiina), but Japanese horror movie do as Japanese horror movie like, and things start getting pretty, uhh, wild, to say the least.
This is one of those movies with a That Scene™, a scene that stands out so far from the rest of the film, that most people usually only end up remembering it in a complete vacuum once the rest of the film has evacuated their brain. Think the church scene in Kingsmen: The Secret Service, or the splitting (I can’t really think of a way to write this that isn’t somewhat gross) scene from Bone Tomahawk. Scenes like these are usually great scenes in and of themselves, but because they pop so much compared to the rest of the film, they can really colour our perceptions and memories of movies. Look to Bone Tomahawk. The last twenty minutes are brutal and gory enough to warrant most general audiences calling the entire thing a horror movie, despite the first hour and forty being a really well written, well paced western-drama (I really love Bone Tomahawk, go see it if you haven’t).
The reason I bring all this up is because 85% of Audition tends to get glossed over in conversation so people can get to telling their friends about the bloody, acupuncture needle and piano wire filled climax. I understand people’s fascination with this stuff (lord knows how many movies I’ve shilled to people because of their That Scene™), but I think selling Audition as only a super fucked up precursor to the torture porn flicks of the mid 2000s is truly selling it short. Aoyama and his son Shigehiko have a real chemistry together when they do share scenes, and I was sincerely surprised how fleshed out (heh) each of the characters were. While you get a sense for how Aoyama is kind of a dick and maaaaaybe disrespectful to the memory of his late wife, but when things go south you do legitimately feel bad for him. I was definitely under the impression that Audition would be way less character driven than it was, and I was pleasantly surprised when it did end up being so engaging.
Looking back, Audition feels almost as if it were two movies. The first half sets itself up to be almost a wacky romantic comedy. Sure, you have the sombre reminder of a recent widower being your protagonist, but the “man stages auditions for a fake movie so he can find a girlfriend” concept sounds like something out of a Seth Rogen flick. And Audition is actually funny at points too, which caught me off guard. Miike does a great job of slowly ramping up the tension and unease throughout the film, so while the ending is totally bonkers, you’ve spent the time slowly journeying there rather than just getting thrown off a cliff right into the giant hodgepodge of crazy 75% of your way through the film.
I’ve got to commend Miike for his tight directing and interesting visual style, which is another part of this movie that I think a lot of people forget about when they feverishly recommend it to their friends. Audition is stylish, particularly when things get spicy but even the more reserved first half deftly dips between genres. Miike shifts between more open blocking and framing when things are lighthearted and quickly closes to a more frantic and claustrophobic feeling to keep you on the edge of your seat. Even when things seem to be going smoothly with all the characters, Audition will always subtly remind you that things will not in fact be alright.
The verdict? No hot takes here. Everybody in the history of horror movies loves Audition, and I like i too. It’s not the greatest horror movie ever created, but it did everything I needed it to do. To say it made me uncomfortable is a bit of an understatement, but I do think that it gets quickly dismissed as “one of those gross Japanese movies” unfairly. Audition has a lot more going for it than shock and gore (And trust me, there’s enough, umm, explicit material to make most gorehounds blush). It’s well crafted and actually spends time and effort to get you to care for the characters before it slowly and ruthlessly tears them down in front of you, and for that, I got more than I bargained for in a good way.