Updated: Jul 21
Quite possibly the best «J-horror» you'll ever see!
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Tetsu Sawaki, Renji Ishibashi
Related films: Visitor Q, Gozu, 2LDK, Cold Fish, Confessions
Audition was the film that skyrocketed Takashi Miike to international infamy. In hindsight - and unfortunately so for Miike - it proved to be as substantial as he would ever get. Sure, his later films did become the flavor of the month at times, due to shock effects of extreme proportions. But none of them offered the kind of substance and character development we got from Audition.
This goes to show that you never really know when your peak might come. It might be a bold claim to argue that Miike peaked in 1999, but at the same time there was something about Audition that was pure magic. The strangely effective mix of family drama and horror was - and still is - one of a kind, especially when it comes to the build-up of tension.
The in-depth storytelling and acting performances are even more impressive when considering the fact that this was only one of seven films that Miike directed the same year. Sometimes the universe just aligns, and from out of nowhere comes one of the creepiest and most unforgettable J-horror films of all time.
Psychological thriller or suspense is perhaps the best way to categorize Audition, rather than horror, which has been the more common label. Many a horror fan has surely been disappointed when realizing the slow pace and long buildup of the film. It takes well over 45 minutes for anything even remotely creepy to happen. Before this the character development and storytelling are the main attraction.
The story begins with a husband and son losing their wife and mother due to illness. Cut to seven years later and they have moved past the grieving period, but still live in seclusion and solitude. When one day the son suggests that the father remarry, it sets in motion events of the unexpected. The father discusses his remarriage with a colleague, which then proceeds to set up an audition with prospective women.
They disguise the audition as a casting call. In reality however, the two middle aged men are reviewing the marriage potential of auditioning young women. On paper the whole situation sounds creepy enough. The father is a very likable character though, who seems to be genuinely in search of a soul mate. This almost makes his actions appear romantic, but not quite.
A New Level of Horror
Compared to Miike’s other films at the time, Audition might indeed seem spineless at first, but like the saying goes, don’t judge a film by its casing, or something… (Tiny spoiler ahead!) Audition is all about the element of surprise, which is what made it such a powerful and effective film. Not only that, but the drama - which mainly was constructed to facilitate gruesomeness - stands very well on its own legs. That is to say, had the film not developed into horror madness it still would have worked well. (Spoiler end)
Due to strong casting, ample character development, well written story and great acting performances, Audition really shines. These are traits that most horror films are lacking in one or more respects, and therefore it also makes Audition a horror film - or more correctly, a psychological thriller - for the ages.
Technical aspects such as camera, sound and cutting are nothing out of the ordinary, in either the context of Japanese film or J-horror. If anything, Miike’s standard slapdash work is at a bare minimum, which serves the film well. The cinematography is definitely dodgy if set up against your usual Japanese drama film, but compared to most J-horror films this is as neat as a psychopath’s apartment.
Now a days Miike has become a household name among cult film followers around the world. Audition is no longer the talk of the town, but it deserves a lot better than to be forgotten. Do yourself a favor and check out the film that made the infamous Miike famous. More so than most of his earlier films, this is one that easily stands the test of time.
For many years there was no good release of this film to be found on the European market. Luckily it was picked up by Arrow and put out on Blu-ray in 2016. Not only that, but the release is region free, a step up in quality from the Shout! version (US) and comes in a very nice package.