And in a way, that's the problem. Audition starts out as the sweetest little love tragedy you can imagine. Poor Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is nursing his wife during her final hours on her deathbed. She passes away and he's left to raise their son alone. Years later, he has finally gotten over the loss of his wife and consults his friend on how a widower finds a girl these days. The friend proposes a clever idea: Hold an audition for a movie that will never be made. Ask the girls whatever you want, then pick and choose the perfect one for a wife.
Aoyama jumps at it, and in the parade of freaks that come for the phony audition are pitiful... until Aoyama meets the striking Asami (Shiina). Immediately he strikes up a relationship, only to discover his little deceit is nothing compared to the skeletons Asami has in her closet.
What ensues is pure horror as Aoyama investigates Asami's sketchy past, meeting mutilated acquaintances and bystanders who speak only of people who mysteriously died, leaving hacked up bodies behind with pieces that don't quite match up. Aoyama also slips in and out of dream-states (and not just because he's sleeping), leaving us to question, for a short time, at least, whether this whole thing is just a dream. I won't reveal how the film ends, but its final 20 minutes are some of the most gruesome put to film. And it isn't a dream.
Audition is difficult to compare to contemporaries, but imagine if Mulholland Drive made sense or if Boxing Helena didn't stink. Imagine if David Cronenberg grew up as part of a wealthy and repressed family in Tokyo. Imagine if William S. Burroughs made a movie while on acid.
The cleverness of Audition comes in the way it screws with your perception of what's going to happen. As I mentioned earlier, its biggest flaw is that it gives away the fact that it's a horror film at heart, and this surprise (first glimpsed when we see something in a large canvas sack suddenly start rolling around the room) is somewhat spoiled by the fact that we know bad things are going to happen. (Thus I don't feel bad for spoiling them somewhat in my review.)
At the same time, Audition takes too long in getting to its horrorshow. While watching the DVD I actually fell asleep after the umpteenth scene of Aoyama feeling sorry for himself and moping around. It simply isn't possible to avert your gaze during the last half of the movie, but the setup is far too long in the making.
Both Ishibashi and Shiina (in her screen debut) make for impressive leads. Ishibashi doesn't have to do much to get the pathetic widower character across, and the way Shiina sing-songs "deeper... deeper..." is absolutely nerve-tingling.
Director Miike has less success with the dreamworld/reality construct, trying to make us question the story but eventually abandoning the whole precept. Have a little more faith in your narrative, Miike.
A new uncut edition DVD is available, adding some commentary and interviews. Any extra footage in the film is difficult to locate exactly... it's plenty horrifying either way.
Run time: 115 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd March 2000
Distributed by: American Cinemateque
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 53 Rotten: 14
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriter: Daisuke Tengan