Audition, 1999 – Movie Review – 31 Days of Horror
Posted by LiveFor on October 11, 2009
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina
This review by Alice Liddell for my 31 Days of Horror.
A friend of mine saw this blind before Christmas, and thought it was the most gruesome thing he’d ever seen. Which got me interested. I didn’t find it terribly repulsive, but do think it’s a kind of masterpiece. Both judgements are probably related. Because I had read the dream-cues, and because, like all great modern films, I noticed ‘Audition’ was a revisiting of cinema’s Pandora’s Box, ‘Vertigo’, I was able to second-guess what was coming – it’s more difficult to squirm at torture within a dream than torture being actually inflicted on a character you’ve come to like. So the extended torture scene, with its gleeful acupuncture and foot fetishising, was more of a deliciously excruciating exercise in black comedy, especially when the victim’s son turns up. But then, I’m so tough.
This is not to caricature Takashi’s narrative complexity – when I say ‘dream-cues’, I don’t mean that there is an easy division between dream and reality, that one comes out of the other. The film’s major achievement is to create a hall of mirrors so that one becomes the other, reflecting each other to vanishing point.
Aoyama’s ‘punishment’ is not the physical torture to which he is so gruellingly subjected, but the more painful mental torture where he completely loses his bearings, his inability to differentiate between what is fantasy, desire , projection , wish-fulfilment, and his ‘normal’ world. When Aoyama wakes up from his torture, and Asami meekly affirms her willingness to marry him, he is rightly terrified, not because she will commit the tortures for real, but because he has failed to master her, to fix her to the image he wanted.
Firstly, he wanted someone who conformed to his ideas of maturity and thoughtfulness, but her truth was more evasive, her identity a mystery to be solved. Like Scottie Ferguson, he becomes a detective to uncover Woman, and loses. The extraordinary dream sequence which comprises the movie’s second half is a dizzying vortex: a narrative explaining Asami’s life, the reasons for her mystery; a mea culpa about Aoyama’s own male guilt in seeking to use and dominate women; an outrageous projection of his own fantasies of necrophilia, sadism, masochism, fetishism, dismemberment, incest, paedophilia etc. These currents feed into each other, and destabilise the world of the first half, where identity, in work and family terms, seemed secure.
Of course, they never really were – the narrative begins with father and son reuniting at the deathbed of their wife/mother – a dismemberment engendering the others, literal and narrative, throughout. Takashi’s main device is to involve us intimately with his characters, than pull back, making the familiar, and the objects within it, eerie and strange. Right from the start – take the crucial dinner sequence after the fishing, when the camera withdraws, and films Aoyama with his back to us. As the film continues, its formalism increases, the framing in alienating boxes taking the principles out of the real, modern world, and plunging them into something terrifying, depthless; the colours, tweaked early on, flush disturbingly.
Asami remains elusive: always dressed in billowing white, she is so self-effacing as to be a ghost, leaving no traces – as she waits for Aoyama’s phone call, she is immobile, the undead, brought to life by the ringing. She is literally brought to life inexplicably before the actual auditions, suggesting she is a mental emanation of Aoyama’s, rather than an actual woman.
There are elements of other filmmakers – Davids Cronenberg and Lynch especially – but imagine ‘Vertigo’ if Scottie had never come out of his catatonia; if Madeleine really were possessed by a ghost.