31 Days of Horror: Audition is still a nightmarish obra

Photo: Audition.. Image Courtesy Shudder
Photo: Audition.. Image Courtesy Shudder /

The shadow of Audition as a towering icon of J-Horror is now so enshrined in pop culture and the conventions of the genre it arguably gave birth to, that it’s pretty hard now to parse what was the original and what’s been made as homage since its release.

Those images still haunt anybody who saw it on its release in 1999 or, like me, in the aftermath in the aughts that caused shockwaves throughout the film and fan community.

The black plastic garbage bag. Eihi Shiina as the waifish and idealized attractive, submissive Japanese woman. An old man desiring a pep shot at life using a young woman as fuel for his second wind.

The casting couch setup that Asami flawlessly subverts (is she auditioning Aoyama or is Aoyama auditioning her?). And the setting of Japanese patriarchal society that’s perpetuated and emboldened the system of domineering old husbands and compliant young wives.

What is Audition about?

Aoyama is widower who works in the film business and, upon the loneliness of his wife’s passing sets in, his friend suggests a way to find him his next romance with a possibly a younger, fresher version he can care for and can care for him.

This underhanded masquerade for finding the old man a new wife? Aoyama and his producer friend will audition a non-existent part for a non-existent movie. This, they surmise, will attract the right kind of woman for the unavailable role! She will be aptly submissive and compliant.

She will fulfill the cosmetic requirements of Aoyama and then he can break it to her that she didn’t get the part, enabling the old man to ask her out on a date, for possibly other future roles. In another genre this would be the perfect jump point for a romcom, but this is Miike we’re talking about here. The same guy who would later direct the heavy handed plasma gore fests of Blade of the Immortal and Ichii the Killer.

Aoyama the grieving widower is presented as a typical mild-mannered, well-earning salary man. Yet he is also your typical macho Japanese urban technocrat. There is no doubt he loved his now dead wife, yet in his grief the women in his life have heightened in their peripherality.

They have become more disposable, more ancillary. The secretary in his office he has a tryst with is ignored after one intimate night, and the cleaner that comes in to assist him in domesticity he simply has no time for is as ignorable as any blue-collar service person.

Even the audition process he underwent to is an industrial age throwback where men like Aoyama endeavor to find the same woman his wife was as if thinking this they can actually find the same person or the closest match to the spare parts of a car he wishes he could drive again.

When the audition process throws up Asami, perfect in every way, beautiful and of course picture perfect acquiescent, I remember the disquieting film’s score by Koji Endo being confirmation that all is not well with this quiet and still woman.

She is almost something preternatural and creature-like. Her humility now seems something strange and the score contributes to the tension of the dread that build and builds into the gory climax.

Audition director Takashi Miike
AUSTIN, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 19: Director Takashi Miike attends a special screening of The Happiness of the Katakuris during Fantastic Fest at Alamo Drafthouse on September 19, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images) /

Audition is still Takashi Miike’s perfect obra

That the part of Asami went to a relatively noob actor in the person of elfin fashion model Eihi Shiina (at that point her biggest accomplishment was repping Japan at the Elite Model Look 1995) was itself an apt metaphor for the literal casting process that’s mirrored in the film’s own auditions.

At that moment on the casting couch, we feel the same as Aoyama. We’ve found her! The perfect woman for the role of new, young wife! Especially when Asami narrates the story about how she had to give up dance because of a debilitating injury.

Those who couldn’t take the slow pace and molasses build up couldn’t really appreciate the reveal that comes at the end of Miike’s masterful study in restraint. Only in the last 20 minutes or so are we given the beautifully gory denouement.

When Asami turns from submissive and trapped woman to a demonic femme fatale the tale of oppressor becoming a literal plaything is a vivid shock. The tables have turned and though the torture of the hunter thinking he’s bagged easy game in a fragile young woman is gruesome and always difficult to watch, the vengeance versus tyrannical society not only feels right, it feels warranted.

Perhaps not on Aoyama himself but the things and values he represents. It was just his luck of the draw.

Miike’s powerful adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel launched the conventions and template that would inspire future directors for the possibilities of gore and drama, subtle storytelling into shlock apogee. Folks like Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino have name-dropped their love for this movie on many occasions.

After decades, Audition still stands tall among the progenitors of what the world has come to know as J-horror. Whether it’s your first time or Nth time watching this dark obra, you’ll forever remember Asama’s chanting, needles and pins in hand, of “Deeper, deeper, deeper” like an erotic playtime prelude foretelling and promising wilder agonies.

You can watch Audition on Prime Video.

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