One of the definite exploitation masterpieces finally gets the edition it deserves…
Quite a historic production (at least for the cult following), since it was the film that established Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Lesson of the Evil, 13 Assassins) as a prominent member of the category and Eihi Shiina (Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, Helldriver) as a “priestess” of the grotesque.
Based on the novel by Ryu Murakami, Audition tells the story of Shigeharu Aoyama, a middle aged entrepreneur, who has recently lost his wife and has been living a disinterested life ever since. His 17-year-old son, Shigehiko, who worries about the turn his father’s life seem to have taken, prompts him to meet new women. Yoshikawa, a friend of Shigeharu’s and film producer, proposes to him to take part in a sham in order to meet women, an idea he agrees to.
According to the plan, actresses would supposedly audition for the role of Shigeharu’s wife, in an imaginary film, although the actual purpose is for Shigeharu to find someone he could date. Many beautiful women audition, there is only one though that truly stirs his heart, Asami Yamazaki. The young woman states that she is an ex ballet dancer who was lately working for a music producer. Yoshikawa warns Shigeharu to be careful, since he was not able to cross check Asami’s background, but he is already blinded by love.
The film begins in the usual Japanese style, with hypnotic rhythm, scarce dialogue, almost no music and permeating realism both in the environment it takes place and in the characters. The first hour particularly does not look like a horror film at all, but rather like an indifferent social film.
As the story progresses though, some out of place images shyly make their appearance, that become more frequent as the mystery surrounding Asami grows. Particularly the scenes with her smile and a peculiar sheet give the impression that “something” is about to follow.
Takashi Miike took a step away from the J-horror genre that was culminating at the time with films like The Ring (Ringu), Ju On: The Grudge, Dark Water, etc and abstained from incorporating supernatural elements in the film, instead trying to cause fear with the atmosphere and the subtle feeling of uneasiness that permeates it. Some sense of surrealism remained, but it is of minor importance.
Accordingly, Ryo Ishibashi (Suicide Club, The Grudge, Brother) as Shigeharu and the unrecognisable Jun Kunimura (Attack on Titan, Parasyte) as Yoshikawa act in moderate and almost indifferent fashion. The case is similar with the gorgeous Eihi Shiina who plays Asami, although she emits something peculiar despite her “innocent” appearance.
The technical aspect of the film also moves in that fashion, being highly indifferent and producing a film that mostly looks like an amateurish documentary of a man’s disinterested life.
And now that you have read all that, you can forget them because the actual and sole purpose of the rest of the film is just to bring the spectator into a state of utter unpreparedness for the grotesque incidents that occur in its last part, that are as terrifying and perverse, as one would expect from the onerous fantasies of both Murakami and Miike. Particularly the ending scene is one of the most dreadfully realistic ever to appear in cinema, an outcome that benefits the most from the film’s sound and the otherwise cute exterior of Asami.
Audition is by no means a film addressed to the mainstream audience, fans of cult cinema though will definitely appreciate its atmosphere and the grotesqueness of the last part, which is what gave the film the place it currently holds in the category.
Audition is available now on UK Dual Format Steelbook (Blu-ray + DVD), and Blu-ray, from Arrow Video.
Home media details
Distributor: Arrow Video (UK)
Edition: Blu-ray and Dual Format Steelbook (Blu-ray + DVD) (2016)
The release includes both a Blu-Ray and a DVD. The picture is in 1,85:1 aspect ratio that has been restored to 2K, which, needless to say, is the best edition of the film ever to appear outside cinemas and despite some outdoor shots that seem a bit grainy, probably due to the original source. The sound is Original 5.1 Dolby Surround Audio that sounds as terrifying as it should during the scenes that matter. The extras entail audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan, brand new commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes examining the film and its source novel, introduction by Miike, a brand new interview with Takashi Miike titled Ties that Bind, Interviews with stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi, An appreciation by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns, titled Damaged Romance, trailers of the film and a picture gallery.