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  • Writer's pictureRobin Syversen

AUDITION (1999) REVIEW & ANALYSIS

Updated: May 23, 2023

Miike’s J-Horror Masterpiece and His Most Significant Film


Director: Takashi Miike

Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Tetsu Sawaki, Renji Ishibashi

Related films: Visitor Q, Gozu, Guilty of Romance, The World of Kanako, Love Exposure

Studio: Audition Production Committee (?)

Year: 1999

Verdict: 5/6



Contents



Introducing Takashi Miike’s Magnum Opus


Audition skyrocketed Takashi Miike to international infamy. In hindsight - and unfortunately so for Miike - it was as substantial as he ever got. Sure, some of his later films did become the flavor of the month, but none of them delivered substance and character development like Audition.


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.


The in-depth storytelling and acting performances are even more impressive, considering that this was only one of seven films Miike directed in the same year. Sometimes the universe aligns, and from out of nowhere comes one of the creepiest and most unforgettable j-horror films ever.



How Audition Changed the Face of Horror


Audition is based on a novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami, published in 1997. Within two years, Miike transformed it into a film that quickly gained attention for its unconventional narrative approach and fearless exploration of character psychologies.


Audition emerged as a genre-expanding film, not just within the realm of J-horror but globally. It incorporated psychological suspense, gory horror, and drama while simultaneously undermining mainstream horror's predictable patterns.


By manipulating narrative structure and pacing, Miike created a film that appears innocuous and even mundane in the beginning, only to evolve into a harrowing examination of obsession, deception, and vengeance.


Compared to Miike’s other films of the same era, Audition might indeed seem spineless at first, but as the saying goes, don’t judge a movie by its casing or something… Audition was all about the element of surprise, which is what made it such a groundbreaking and powerful film.


Not only that, but the drama - mainly constructed to facilitate gruesomeness - stands very well on its own legs. That is to say, had the film not developed into obscene horror madness, it still would have worked well.


Due to solid casting, sound character development, a well-written story, and great acting performances, Audition really shines. Most horror films of its era lacked these traits in one or more respects. But it also made Audition a horror film – or, more correctly, a psychological thriller - for the ages.



A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing | The Story of Audition


The story starts on a melancholic note. It follows the life of a widower and his son, who lost their wife and mother seven years ago but still lives in seclusion and solitude. One day, upon his son's encouragement, the father decides to remarry. So, he sets up a pseudo-audition to meet prospective brides.


The protagonists are Shigeharu Aoyama, a middle-aged film producer, and Asami Yamazaki, a beautiful and mysterious woman who becomes the object of Aoyama's affection.


While Aoyama initially appears sympathetic, his actions hint at deep-seated societal issues. Asami, on the other hand, a victim of child abuse, presents a complex portrait of oppression and mental terror.


Together with a colleague, Aoyama starts auditioning prospective women, disguising the audition as a casting call. In reality, however, the two middle-aged men are reviewing the marriage potential of a string of young women.


The whole setup is questionable, yet we can’t help but feel for Aoyama. He is a very likable and genuine character who wants nothing more than to find his soul mate. As such, his method almost appears romantic, but not quite. That said, he didn’t seem to deserve the cruel punishment he was about to receive.



Outlining the Major Themes of Audition


Audition navigates through several themes, with deception and obsession taking center stage. The film probes into the socially constructed veneers of respectability and innocence, demonstrating how these facades can mask a person's true nature. The story uses Aoyama's desperate pursuit of love and Asami's pursuit of revenge to delve into the destructive nature of obsession.


The film also explores the concept of objectification, presenting it as a two-way street: Aoyama objectifies Asami as an ideal wife and love interest, while Asami objectifies Aoyama as a symbol of her past traumas and a target for her vengeance. This reciprocal objectification culminates in a gruesome climax that underscores the destructive implications of reducing people to mere objects.


Various Interpretations and Understandings of Audition


Audition has given rise to multiple interpretations. Some see it as a commentary on societal norms and gender roles, particularly in Japanese society, while others view it as a chilling exploration of obsession and the dark side of human nature.


There's also an interpretation that frames the narrative as Aoyama's dream or nightmare, with the film's surreal elements supporting this theory. Other theories focus on the psychological aspects of Audition, arguing that Asami's character reflects Aoyama's guilt and fear and manifests his internal struggle.


Yet another take on the message of Audition is that the film serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of idealization and objectification. All these varying interpretations attest to the richness and complexity of the film's narrative.


Its exploration of gender norms, abuse, and vengeance was seen by some as a subversion of societal expectations, sparking debate and controversy. Others deemed the explicit portrayal of torture and the character of Asami as morally problematic.



The Dark Corners of the Human Psyche | Audition Analysis


Audition threw a critical glance at traditional gender norms and the objectification of women in Japanese society. It employed horror to highlight the consequences of repressed female anger and resentment. Patriarchal expectations and trauma shaped Asami's character, and her retribution was a direct reaction to the systemic subjugation that she experienced.


This grim manifestation of female rage was a stark commentary on the stifling effects of societal norms and the devastating outcomes of repressed emotions and desires. As such, the grotesque and macabre were not only employed to shock its viewers but to force them into critical reflection on the deeply entrenched cultural biases that define and confine gender roles in society.


Through its unnerving narrative, Audition challenged the viewer to recognize the dangerous implications of perpetuating a culture that discourages the expression of female autonomy and power.


Examination of the Psychological Aspects Depicted in the Film


Audition delved into the minds of its characters and offered a disturbing view into their psyches. Asami's backstory and her terrifying actions reflect the psychological consequences of extreme abuse and neglect. Aoyama, on the other hand, embodies the consequences of unhealthy obsession and the desire for control.


The amount of controversy garnered by Audition underlines that Miike struck a nerve. It could, of course, be argued that the entire spectacle was part of Miike’s M.O., being that shock and gore were his bread and butter. But Audition cut a little deeper and therefore caused stronger reactions.


Asami and Aoyama's motivations stemmed from their past experiences and internal struggles. Their behaviors - Aoyama's naivety and Asami's violence - encapsulated their flawed attempts to grapple with their psychological turmoil.



Production Notes | The Making of Audition


Audition features a distinctly unassuming visual style in its early scenes, echoing the mundanity of Aoyama's life. The use of static shots and everyday settings sets a baseline of normalcy.


Many horror fans have surely been disappointed when realizing the film's slow pace and long buildup. It takes well over 45 minutes for anything even remotely creepy to happen. Before this, character development and storytelling are the main attraction.


As the narrative progresses, the visual aesthetics evolve to mirror the escalating tension and horror. More dynamic and disorienting cinematography unfolds, culminating in the jarring, surreal imagery of the Audition's climax.


Miike’s contortion of traditional narratives and storytelling techniques are especially noteworthy. It made Audition stand out and contributed to developing a new breed of horror films in Japan and abroad.


Mainstream audiences are probably more familiar with the influence of J-horror flicks like The Ring and The Grudge, but Audition arguably pushed the envelope even further.


The non-linear structure enhances the film's suspense, as it adds an element of unpredictability. It aids the gradual revelation of Asami's true nature and backstory, creating a growing sense of unease. The structure also aids in illustrating the juxtaposition of reality versus illusion. As such, the narrative inventiveness carried the storytelling on its shoulders.


The Cinematography, Music & Sounds of Horror


Technical aspects such as camera movements, sound design, and cutting are far from extraordinary in the context of Japanese film. However, Miike’s slapdash work serves Audition well. To be fair, Miike cleaned up his act significantly compared to the other films he put out around that time.


Though the cinematography was dodgy compared to your usual Japanese drama film, compared to most j-horror films, it was as neat as a psychopath’s apartment. Audition was one of the first films where Miike rose above his typical B-movie antics, and therefore he also succeeded in utilizing color and sound to bone-chilling effect.


The film employs a muted color palette, enhancing the sense of reality and dread. Aoyama's world is depicted in warm, soft tones, contrasting with the cold, stark colors of Asami's. Miike used lighting and framing to manipulate the viewers' perspective and subtly hint at the looming darkness beneath the veneer of normalcy.


The sound design of Audition is as meticulously crafted as its visual elements. Ambient sounds enhance the film's realism, while strategic silence underscores moments of tension and horror. The movie also utilizes disorienting, jarring audio effects, particularly in its climax, to amplify the viewer's discomfort and unease.


The film's score, composed by Kōji Endō, contributes significantly to the building tension and impending dread. The soundtrack's subtle transformation from tranquil, almost melancholic, to increasingly disturbing mirrors the narrative's descent into horror, thereby augmenting the sense of unease and terror.



Miike’s Bad Influence | The Legacy of Audition


Audition left a lasting imprint on horror filmmakers worldwide. It proved that terror could be derived from psychological tension, narrative manipulation, and social commentary, not just from jump scares and gore. As such, Audition became a benchmark for psychological horror.


Miike’s approach influenced numerous directors and shaped the making of scare movies in the new millennium, asserting that the most horrifying monsters are often not the supernatural ones but those lurking within us.


Beyond its cinematic influence, Audition had significant cultural resonance. It underscored the potential repercussions of objectification and gender imbalance, highlighting societal issues that remain relevant today.


Through its unnerving narrative, Audition not only changed the face of horror cinema but also stimulated a broader cultural discourse. This might explain why the film resonated so strongly with many contemporary directors in Japan and abroad.


Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, The Soska Sisters, and Mario Kassar, to mention a few, have all mentioned Audition as a favorite or source of inspiration. Kassar was even engaged in making an English adaptation of Audition in 2014, but the project appears to have been iced or tossed into a black plastic bag for now.



Final Verdict for Audition


Nowadays, 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. So do yourself a favor and check out the film that made the infamous Miike famous. More so than most of his earlier films, Audition easily stands the test of time.



FAQs About Audition 1999



1. Is Audition based on a true story?


No, Audition is not based on a true story. It's adapted from a novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami.


2. How did the film impact Takashi Miike's career?


Audition significantly boosted Miike's international reputation. It highlighted his versatility as a filmmaker and ability to create deeply unsettling narratives. Today, it remains one of his most celebrated works.


3. What is the significance of the bag scene in the film?


The bag scene is a turning point in the film, marking the transition from psychological drama to visceral horror. It is a potent symbol of Asami's concealed violent nature and the reality of Aoyama's situation.


4. Was Audition censored or banned in any country?


While Audition was controversial due to its graphic violence, it was not officially banned in any country. However, its release was restricted in certain regions due to its content.


5. How does Audition compare to other Japanese horror films?


Audition stands out for its fusion of psychological horror with social commentary, differentiating it from many supernatural-focused Japanese horror films.



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1 Comment


ok.krist
ok.krist
Jul 10, 2019

Fantastic. I must see this.

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