Audition (1999)

Audition [オーディション] (1999)

Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi, Ren Ohsugi

Directed by Takashi Miike

Expectations: High.

Wow. Y’know for a movie with this much hype built up around it, and the fact that I kinda knew the ending in a vague way, I did not expect to be as blown away as I was by Audition. Truly one of the greatest modern horror films, Audition slowly unfolds its tale and pulls you into its story with likable, compelling characters. You could say that the first half is too slow, but that would be missing the point. The slowness is part of the film’s character and absolutely why the third act hits as hard as it does.

The film opens with Aoyama at the bedside of his dying wife. His son arrives with a get well present for his mother, but he’s too late. Seven years later and Aoyama is lonely and still overcome with grief, so his son suggests that he get out and date again. He does, kinda, but to tell anymore would betray the greatness of the film. Seriously, just watch it. It’s definitely the type of movie where knowing much at all will detract from the experience, but know that if you like non-standard horror, you’ll probably enjoy this. So come back after you’ve seen the movie, as I’m not actively trying to spoil anything, but even my vague descriptions of things will be too much.

This is only the second Miike film I’ve seen (13 Assassins was the first), and once again I am floored at how impressive his films are. I had an idea that Miike had adopted a quieter, more meditative pacing for his transition to the samurai genre, but instead that same pacing and methodical delivery of information was present in Audition. It works perfectly for this film, slowly building up the tension and the audience’s wondering desire to know just what is going on, and then paying off immensely when the third act comes along and cranks up the sadism way past 11. The camera doesn’t move quicker, nor does the editing, so even the directing feels sadistic in these moments. This, of course, adds an immense amount of squirms and shocks that horrible, modern filmmaking would have never allowed.

What truly sets Audition apart for me is the use of dreams. There are many throughout Audition, but the pièce de résistance comes after the film ends, when the question of whether or not some of the non-dream scenes were actually dreams. Audition is a movie to be analyzed and re-watched, as its mysteries definitely do not reveal themselves on first glance. That’s not to say that the film is impenetrable or anything, quite the contrary, but there is a lot going on that I’m not completely sure about. In this way, Audition reminds me of some of my favorite books by Phillip K. Dick, who consistently played with shifting realities to put his characters and his readers on guard. This may be a horror movie, and it may be sadistic and hard to watch at times, but it’s impressively well-constructed and should be lauded as one of the great films of the modern era.

The dreams themselves suggest that the film is more about Aoyama’s perception of his newfound love than anything she is actually doing. Maybe. As I said before, I’m unsure completely what really happened, but this is the beauty of Audition. The dreams reveal that what we initially saw of the two characters meeting was not the whole truth, or that Aoyama’s feelings were coloring our own voyeuristic consumption of them. This is perhaps one of the most effective “place you inside a character’s head” movies of all-time. It’s all subtly done to perfection, which is ironic in a film that pushes cinematic sadism through intense, over-the-top visuals into the next realm. But that’s the beauty of Miike: he’s so confident and sure a director that he deftly works with both sides of the palette, using everything at his disposal to craft a unique, incredibly unforgettable work. I’ve seen two films from Takashi Miike, and I’ve given both four stars. I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan.



9 comments to Audition (1999)

  • Good review Will. It ends on a dumb note, but everything else leading up was intense and strange, the only way I would expect from a foreign horror movie.

  • I’m with Will…great ending to a magnificent film!

  • Stephen

    Shall I give my normal horror film complaint? No, I don’t need to. When the plot started wrapping up, I said to myself, “Naw, it hasn’t been anywhere near two hours yet. It can’t be over.” Not five minutes later, the end credits popped up. Any film that can make two hours go by that quickly must be doing something right.

    I think it also had to do with that slow methodical pacing you mention in the review. The end doesn’t feel any different from the rest of the film, so my sense of flow was disrupted. Or maybe it just says something about me that even with all the sadism in there, I still felt like it should have gone further.

    I guess that’s as much of a complaint as I can muster about it though. Imagine that. I actually enjoyed a horror movie, even if it won’t go into my top ten list. It actually reminded me of Perfect Blue with its reality questioning dream sequences, and that’s a good thing. So I guess you can count me as a Takashi Miike fan too.

    • Alright! I knew one day or another there’d be a tension-driven film that would win you over. I’m not surprised it’s this one, as Audition is seriously well-made. It’s a shame that genre films get looked down upon for awards, because this is just a superb work. The pacing is done so well, continually feeding you things to pull you into the narrative.

      Hahaha! It definitely could have gone farther, but I think it’s perfect as is. It’s a fine line between perfectly constructed sadism and torture porn, and even though its violence is really affecting, I don’t think it ever crosses into torture porn. It’s reserved sadism!

  • I’m so glad that you loved this movie! Audition is simply one of the greatest horror films ever made and personally I think it’s the best horror film of the 90s and in my top 10 of all-time. This was the last horror movie that had a deep impact on me and made me afraid to leave my room. Nothing I’ve seen since has come close to it. There was something about the slow burn of it and just the normalcy of the main character’s life that makes everything so comfortable and relatable. And when things start getting a little… strange, you’re so vulnerable that it’s a punch to the fucking soul.

    I’m so glad that you put emphasis on the dream aspects in your review! Most people overlook how effective those sequences are and instead focus on the sadistic aspects of the movie. But those disorienting dream sequences really…simply scared the shit out of me more than anything else.

    Audition is one of the few horror movies that goes beyond being scary and making you leap and spill your popcorn. It hits something deep inside where like… life and reality just isn’t comfortable anymore. It’s one of the few horror movies that is simply prefect.

    • The dreams are where it’s at in this movie! The sadistic stuff is crazy but it’s such a minor part overall. Without all the unsettling shit beforehand, the movie would be nothing, just sadistic trashy stuff like so many other modern horror movies. Gotta watch this one again, I haven’t seen it since I wrote this.

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