5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: Audition
Takashi Miike is one of those Movie Directors that has something of a mixed reputation. On the one hand he has directed some really good films that range from comedy, action and even social commentary. On the other hand, many of his movies can leave a viewer scratching his or her head by the end credits. If there is one movie by Miike that is captivating yet simultaneously difficult to watch it is without a doubt Audition. Miike can take something as innocent as a man trying to get over the death of his wife and turn it into an exploitation film with a somewhat unique anti-exploitation message. There are people who I know that either refuse to watch Audition or are told by others that they are under no condition whatsoever to see it. People either seriously love the movie or go out their way not to watch it. What is it about this movie that makes it so damn polarizing?
It might be a case of Miike doing such a fine job of manipulating his audience. Using the tale of a lonely widower trying to find someone to love is one thing, but then turning that around on a viewer to tell a story of abuse, manipulation and mental cruelty really will send any moviegoer for a loop. Then of course there is how the movie switches from sweet love story to mystery and then full-on psychotic-horror. The movie is one giant curveball; it suckers you in with multiple sympathetic characters and then spends the second half of the movie disassembling what the viewer has watched.
The story is about Shigeharu Aoyama, a widower who still mourns the loss of his wife 7 years before the start of the movie. Aoyama is a sad guy, so sad that even his 17 year-old son all but tells him that Dad should find himself a new woman. This sentiment is echoed by Aoyama’s buddy Yoshikawa, who comes up with a scheme to hook his pal up with a new woman. The plan is to hold a fake audition for young actresses and have Aoyama pick the one he likes best so he can date her. This might be the worst idea for meeting a woman I have ever come across. It is a straight up manipulation of young women and exploiting them for one man’s purpose. Aoyama isn’t comfortable with the plan but still goes along with it.
The girl Aoyama ends up selecting is a quiet, shy girl named Asami. Asami is a former ballerina who quit after suffering an injury to her leg. Aoyama somehow relates to her, mistaking her dethatched shyness for depth. Now Yoshikawa, despite being the semi-sleaze who set the audition up, plays the Bro-Card. He lets Aoyama know that there really isn’t something right about this girl as none of her information from her resume can be verified. This not a deterrent for Aoyama though, as he is so lonely and sad from missing his wife that he pursues a relationship with Asami.
Do I need to tell you that things go south from there?
This seemingly sweet and innocent tale about a widower searching for love becomes a deceptively clever mystery as Aoyama discovers more about Asami’s past. What’s more is that Miike lets us see that there is something very disturbing about this girl. It is one scene that is so chilling and eerie that you know that Aoyama is in trouble but you feel helpless because you know that you, as a viewer, cannot warn him. The scene set in Asami’s empty apartment where she waits by the telephone, waiting to find out if she got “The Part”. That scene frames what is to come. That scene paints the picture that Aoyama isn’t the only one who is about to get fucked with.
No further synopsis for this movie will be given because to give anymore away might dissuade you from actually watching it and that isn’t how I do things here at Brave Blog. I want you to see this movie. I want you to experience Takashi Miike luring you in with your own sentimentality and then turn that against you for one hell of a brutal finish. If anything, Miike uses Audition as a means to treat his viewers like Marks at a Carnival. He has lured you to his game and has you thinking that you might get through the experience with no harm. Of course Miike is the Carny here; he already had this game rigged before you even set foot in the theater. Before you know it, Miike has taken your money and left you asking yourself “What just fucking happened here?” Hell, you don’t even get to call shenanigans on him, that’s how good Takashi Miike is.
The thing is this isn’t a new movie. Audition was first screened in 1999. That is 12 years worth of movies that has come and gone. 12 years is not “Modern Japanese Film” technically speaking, but the movie holds up amazingly well. I’ve never really thought of a psychodrama/horror movie as “Timeless” before but there is a certain feel to Audition that makes it seem that way. It doesn’t feel dated or out of place with current modern cinema. Hell, I am genuinely stunned that some American didn’t try to remake Audition during Hollywood’s “Let’s remake all those current Japanese horror movies” phase at the turn of the century. Miike builds tension really well in giving you clues to what might happen later in the film. There are scenes that will have the slightest movement that will make you jump and an ending that you will either adore or be repulsed by. Miike directs a movie that just might hit every emotion along the way before giving you quite a harrowing conclusion. I might even be willing to say that Audition is the most perfect Horror/Psychodrama movie ever made.
So despite its age, Audition is still an example of great modern Japanese cinema. It is my favorite film by Takashi Miike because it opens soft and by its end it punches you in the face. It isn’t even like one doesn’t see that things will not end well for everyone involved in the story. Hell by the midpoint of the movie you sense everything is building to massive climax. But you are so pulled into this movie that you know you need to see how it all plays out.
Audition is the movie your parents warned you about when you were a kid. You know the movie that they would not take you to no matter what. It is an exercise in anti-exploitation exploitation. It is sweet, scary and at times, very brutal. It is a movie that manipulates the viewer and that alone is why you should both love and hate it. It is for all these reasons it is in my Top Ten Movies of All Time. So go watch audition already dammit, even if you come away hating the movie itself there is no way you can walk away from it and say honestly say that it isn’t actually good. That is how damn manipulative it is. That is why Takashi Miike is a bastard of the highest magnitude. God I love him for that!