Posted: 08/03/2001

 

Audition

(2000)

by Parama Chaudhury



This DVD is available for purchase at HKFlix.com.


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Based on a story by Ryu Murakami, Audition starts off as something like a romantic comedy, and ends up as one of the most spine-chilling and gruesome movies you’ll ever see. In fact, it is this schizophrenic nature that makes it even more effective as arthouse horror. Director Takashi Miike blends beauty and revulsion with so deft a hand that you feel hypnotized by the one even as the other compels you to turn away in disgust.

Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a middle-aged businessman who has been a widower for seven years. Over dinner one night, his teenage son casually suggests a second marriage. It doesn’t take much to convince Aoyama, but where is he going to find his perfect woman? An arranged marriage? Naah—let’s hold an audition, movie-producer friend, Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) proposes. A colorful collage of the applicants follows: each has her talents, her bizarre past, and her desperate present. Well enough. Till this point, you can replace the characters with John Cusack and Billy Crystal, and rest assured, a completely enjoyable comedy about the search for love will follow.

Make no mistake: this is no comedy, American or otherwise. Asami, a former ballerina, catches Aoyama’s eye, and he proceeds to woo her. She is beautiful, shy and clearly thrilled to be with Aoyama. But there are some unanswered questions about this charming young girl. None of her references can be found; someone’s disappeared, someone else has been brutally murdered. There’s also the little matter of the three extra fingers, an ear and a tongue. Asami is always enchanting, which heightens the tension. It’s just that every now and then, we see her sitting on the floor in front of her telephone, with a large sack lying in the background. The sack sometimes rolls over and grunts. Is it real? Or is it a hallucination?

Miike manages to move smoothly from the light-heartedness of the first half of the movie, to the terror of the second half. It seems incredible that there is no abruptness in going from Sleepless in Seattle to Aino Korida, but that is precisely Miike’s achievement. Exactly when did the sight of Asami start provoking fear? Which events are real, and how much of it is inside Aoyama’s head? Is Asami’s grief at having to give up ballet after she injured her hips—equivalent, she says in her application for the audition, to the acceptance of death—what defines her? This was, after all, one of the things that endeared her to Aoyama. Can it have warped her into an angel of destruction?

All this is running through your head as you watch Audition. At the same time, Hideo Yamamoto’s evocative photography tricks you into a poetic state of mind. Eihi Shiina, who plays Asami, is a former Benetton model, and the composition of the shots takes this into account. There are stills that could have been ripped out from the pages of a futuristic design magazine. Many of the early shots of Asami are stills showing her dressed in white against a light background, which adds to the aura of serenity around her thus making her “transformation” even more horrific. Add to this, the color themes of each shot—the cool blue of the sea, the warm brown of Aoyama’s home, the gentle pink of little Asami dancing, the tungsten whiteness of Aoyama’s office—which seem to be constructing a story by themselves. All of this lulls you into a contemplative mood. Then the horror begins.

If you wet your pants watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, skip this one. But even if you are not a die-hard horror fan, the cinematic beauty of this movie is definitely worth checking out. Miike’s growing reputation as a filmmaker who can transcend genres is served well by Audition.

Parama Chaudhury is a graduate student, an ex-writing instructor and a budding freelance writer, based in New York City.



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