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Audition

Directed by Takashi Miike

Written by Daisuke Tengan

Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura

Produced by Akemi Suyama, Satoshi Fukushima

Not Rated

110 minutes

****

Perhaps the most innocuous box on your video store shelves right now is holding an extremely nasty surprise. And no, I’m not talking about that copy of the Garfield movie, though that was pretty nasty. I’m talking about “Audition,” and when you actually slap this sucker into your player, you’d better brace yourself, because you are about to go on a two-hour hell ride that won’t stop until the movie ends.

“Audition” would have actually been a “Married…With Children” plot in a twisted, nightmarish, Japanese version of Fox. Let me lay it out for you…basically, once, a good while back, Peg and Kelly got in a big fiery accident and died. For a while, Al was very happy, and Bud was just horny. As usual. But Al, being a shoe salesman, and nothing much else despite having lost the albatross around his neck that was Peg, couldn’t find a replacement wife. So Bud and Jefferson (who apparently finally did away with Marcy and became a film producter) concoct a scheme—have Al pretend to be a producer (to match the fake license plate saying the same he had back in Route 666, part 1) and hold open auditions for a nonexistant movie part. Naturally, it works for the first fifteen minutes or so, and a string of beautiful women show up. Eventually, Al finds a new Peg-to-be—this time a ballerina with a suspicious past. And eventually, the intended Peg Mark Two finds out about the con and proceeds to go completely and spectacularly bughouse, in a fashion that’s as positively nightmarish as it is blood-soaked.

For a two hour special episode of “Married…With Children,” it sure beats holy hell out of Lower Uncton, doesn’t it??

Sure, I’m being facetious—very few people, including our male lead from “Audition,” would react to the loss of their wife that way, there was no Kelly involved here, and you would have never seen this much blood in the Bundy house. But the concepts are remarkably similar, and there’s really no better parallel I can draw.

But this doesn’t detract from the rest of the movie in the least. In fact, I barely even noticed that the first fifteen minutes had gone past. That was the level of storytelling skill we’re dealing with here—when you don’t even notice time going by, at any rate, fast or slow, you’ve got a good movie on your hands. But there were a few sequences I just wanted to get the fast forward going and read the subtitles, especially during the auditions themselves. I won’t deny it was a bit dull to just watch a bunch of girls talk in a chair.

Twenty four minutes one second, however, your patience will be abundantly rewarded. Two words:

Japanese.

Cheerleader.

You’re welcome.

It’s also impressive how things start going wrong. The Japanese movies’ classical virtue of patience is very well served here—the audience only sees very small problems start to crop up at any given time, and this allows the tension to build at almost a glacial rate. You get almost halfway through the movie (about forty minutes in) before you even begin to realize there may be a problem with our hip-damaged ballerina. It takes about a half hour to get to the point where anyone even suspects a problem, and forty minutes to get to the point where the problem is even concrete. While the tension builds slowly, it also builds irrevokably. Like a glacier plunging down from out of nowhere, it rumbles through, slowly, and utterly unstoppably.

The ending is the most unsettling sequence of torture I’ve seen in a good long time. The woman actually puts down a drop cloth, and then grabs a handful of needles. Then there’s the wire saw. And if you can believe it, it actually gets worse from there. The whole last half hour is where true creepy really begins. An incredibly hallucinatory sequences of people, places, events, all unfolds at a mind-shattering pace, and shows us just what’s really going on with the damaged ballerina. Ten solid minutes of frantic hallucination.

I’m now quite convinced how Takashi Miike managed to not get shown on “Masters of Horror.” This is the kind of stuff he can come up with. If he put half of this sheer unsettling into whatever he did (and we’ll find out soon enough—it’s going to video in short order), then man, it’ll be the worst thing they’ve ever had.

The special features an introduction from Takashi Miike, commentary, an interview with Takashi Miike, the segment of “Audition” from Bravo’s “One Hundred Scariest Movie Moments,” an interview with Ryu Murakami, and trailers for “The Eye 2,” “Premonition,” “Infection,” “Ju-On: The Grudge,” “American Psycho,” and “Waiting.”

All in all, “Audition” is like a package at a child’s birthday party that contains a small explosive device packed with nails and rigged to explode on opening. It’s a thoroughly deadly and astonishingly frightening package in an innocent casing. And it’s very much worth your time to rent.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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