Baddie: It’s always the quiet ones, amIright?
Lesson: Have a long engagement.
I spent a lot of time preparing myself for Audition because it has…a reputation. Regardless, I am ready. The film opens immediately with heartbreak as a boy brings his very very sick mother presents in the hospital. “Get well soon Mom” reads the card. He arrives as she dies.
Flash forward to seven years later, the boy has grown and still lives at home. He encourages his father (Aoyama) to seek love again, which leads to his business partner suggesting holding a literal audition to find a potential match.
Aoyama begins looking through the pile of women looking to audition for a false role crated by their studio, and it’s clear that he knows how creepy he’s being as he turns his wife’s picture away from the desk. At the same time, his son brings back a girl to the house, met with the approval of his father. Aoyama soon finds an applicant he’s enamored with through the good fortune of a tea-cup ring. The actual audition process is a whirl, and you can see him get kind of sucked up into the fun of it, despite the fact that he might not be super comfortable with the entire situation.
Then his dream girl from earlier walks in, Asami. She’s quiet, unassuming, dressed in white. Her dreams died when she injured her hips and couldn’t dance ballet anymore. She likens it to accepting death. Aoyama is impressed, but his friend grows more skeptical by the minute. Despite his friend’s reservations, Aoyama beings to court Asami. The movie plods along, always with the small soft seedling of tension. The first indicator of something sinister is the large cloth sack in Asami’s house as she sits, curled and skeletal by the phone. Then the bag moves, violently. The same thing is mimicked later when they are first intimate as they tumble in the sheets with the same violent motion, same phone ringing and everything. It’s brilliant.
Abruptly, after all of this, Asami vanishes from the hotel room where she and Aoyama were taking a vacation. He grows slightly frantic, trying to find her. His search begins to unearth a wake of destruction left in her path. The record producer she used as a reference has been missing for a year and a half (we learn this earlier, but she skirts the issue cleverly), the ballet instructor has a horrible foot…issue? I feel like it’s not clear what’s wrong with his feet, but there is definitely something wrong with this feet. The owner of the bar she worked at was horrifically murdered a year ago. Extra body parts were found on the scene.
It also becomes clear that Asami has a long history of abuse in her early childhood, from multiple sources. She speaks openly about this throughout the course of the movie, but mostly in the second half. It’s definitely disturbing, but it’s also vague. I think this is a good thing, because it leads away from a lazy filmmaker’s tendency to pin motivation on a direct form of abuse. Our imaginations are vivid, and Asami is crazy. There is a lot of room for our brains to fill in some important gaps and assign more unpredictability to Asami.
If you were wondering, Audition is what we might call a slow burn. Not much happens in the first hour and a half, but when things start to happen, oh boy do they happen.
The final scenes of the movie is shot from a severe angle, feeling almost like a security camera. It makes the audience feel very intrusive. For me, the worst part of movies like Wolf Creek is the paralytic scene. The torture sequence in Audition is pretty much right up there, with the main difference being the monologuing. Asami preaches about the reality of pain, how it’s a constant that can be held onto while everything else is turmoil. It was her ground, her center, throughout her tortured past, and it will become Aoyama’s center.
Asami is an interesting villain, and her story is much different then some of the revenge stories featured in other kinds of torture films. One is that she is genuinely broken. Her mind has definitely snapped. She moves calmly and efficiently, taking some joy perhaps, but decidedly sinking into her adrenaline rush as she works on Aoyama. it’s clear, I think, that the true horror in Audition lies in the fact that Asami doesn’t discriminate victims. Like a black widow she moves from man to man, exploiting antiquated remnants of the Japanese courting system. Some men are her abusers, but some are genuine, like Aoyama.
It’s more surreal than I was originally led to believe, and despite being extremely quiet and unassuming (like Asami) for the first almost hour and a half, it’s got a lot of nuanced suspense. The violence is minimal but the implications are severe. I don’t know if it’s worth the extreme hype, but I am also willing to acknowledge that I might be a little bit harder to gross out than some. I would also be curious to check out Hard Candy, made in 2005, as it’s my understanding that both movies have a similar premise.
I’d be curious to see what anyone else thought in regards to the extreme shock value in Audition, and whether or not it was the most disturbing film you’ve seen, or if there’s a movie that tops it.
And before you ask – yes, there is apparently an American remake in the works. Now, since Audition exists pretty seamlessly in Japanese culture, it’s going to be interesting to see those themes translated. I’m guessing it won’t go well.