Books, Japan, Novels, Reviews

Audition (novel)

The book behind the classic Takashi Miike horror…

Aoyama is a documentary maker who still hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife, even after seven years. Even his son Shige announces he should start looking for someone else in his life, but Aoyama is rather picky about the qualities he looks for in others.

His friend Yoshikawa suggests a plan to hold auditions for a fake movie in order to help Aoyama find that perfect other half. Amongst the thousands that apply, he immediately becomes infatuated with the beautiful Yamasaki Asami, a shyly modest actress nearly twenty years his junior who once dreamed of becoming a ballerina.

Friend Yoshikawa begins to find holes in Asami’s story, but Aoyama is too obsessed by her to look beyond what he perceives to be the perfect woman. But could there be something more dangerous hidden by her lies…?

Even those that haven’t seen seen Takashi Miike‘s classic horror will probably be aware of the premise, that Asami is a deadly femme fatale with a predilection for wire cutters. Much like Miike’s adaption, the real horror in Ryu Murakami’s book is left for the last act, with little more than faint suggestions of Asami’s true evil beforehand. It’s just as well the book moves along at such a pace (200 odd pages, large type) that there’s no chance of getting bored waiting for the horror to begin. Indeed, you can probably rattle through the book in one session.

Omitting the infamous ‘sack scene’ from the movie – which is itself one of Miike’s more shocking inventions – Murakami has a more heavy-handed approach to informing the reader that Aoyama should be more wary of his prospective lover, nudging them all the way along. Though it can’t prepare you for the horror to come. Murakami truly comes into his own describing with gleeful delight the use of the aforementioned wire cutter and just how it sounds.

Perhaps it’s in the English translation by Ralph McCarthy, but it doesn’t match the vicious horror Miike managed. Usually the imagination is far more powerful than anything a filmmaker can imagine, but that wasn’t the case with the movie, though – on the basis of the translation at least – Miike turned much of Murakami’s written metaphors and made them real. There’s nothing quite as ‘wtf’ as the dream sequence in Miike’s film.

There’s some common ground for Japanese authors here: Murakami’s character is proud of his lack of xenophobia; his international traveling; his love of Jazz and classical music. It’s almost a little pompous, which perhaps Murakami means as a deliberate; the character thinks he has a modern, forward-thinking attitude towards women, but he clearly hasn’t. Mind you, you might argue that neither has the author – the emotional and physical torture Asami must have gone through to make this way is never more than hinted at, almost as if it’s perfectly normal for a woman to flip out in this manner. I don’t think, unlike some commentators, that’s merely part of the context of Japanese culture, just look at Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct for example.

At the novel’s core is of course that common thread: how well do we know someone we might be falling in love with, what past secrets do they hide? Explored in various ways from Jane Eyre to Rebecca, from Vertigo to Double indemnity, few stories save those 80s excesses quite end like this.

Murakami – a director in his own right since adapting his own work debut novel Almost Transparent Blue, written while he was still a student – gives greater legitimacy to the movie project than we see in the film version with his insider knowledge. His friend actually gets his company draws up a real synopsis assuring him that the likelihood of it really getting made low, as films often fall at the last hurdle getting the funding. And if it really does get funding, he smiles, then that’s even better.

Unsurprisingly, Murakami – a director in his own right – was rather taken with Miike’s film, to the point of giving his blessing to Miike for another adaption, of an earlier work Coin Locker Babies which ironically Miike was unsuccessful in raising the finding to get made.

For fans of the film, it’s an interesting read, but it’s a much closer adaption than you might expect. The film is more successful, but as a quick read this is hardly going to take up too much of your time for the curious.

The real question here is why Bloomsbury took so long to release a translated version. Coming a decade after the film was originally made, at very close to that when it caused such a stir internationally. Though the film is very much a classic in terms of horror (I’m not sure in hindsight if the J-horror tag can be fairly used: it lacks any supernatural elements having more in common with italian Giallo thrillers, especially Dario Argento) surely a more timely release would have had more success?

About the author

Andy H
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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