Japan, 1999, 115’, Japanese
Directed by: Miike Takashi
Screenplay: Tengan Daisuke
Photography (color): Yamamoto Hideo
Editing: Shimamura Yasushi
Art Direction: Ozeki Tatsuo
Music: Endo Koji
Executive Producer: Yokohama Toyoyuki
Producers: Fukushima Satoshi, Suyama Akemi
Cast: Ishibashi Ryo, Kunimura Jun, Shiina Eihi, Sawaki Tetsu, Ishibashi Renji, Matsuda Miyuki
Date of First Release in Territory: March 3rd, 2000
The hero of Miike Takashi’s 2000 shocker Audition is a middle-aged widower, obliviously prone to self-delusion. Miike had explored similar lone male territory before other films, but in Audition he goes deeper. The film is reminiscent of The Sixth Sense in its hallucinogenic persuasiveness, but whereas M. Night Shyamalan’s hit extols the persistence of love, Audition exposes the power of hate, in all its cold, mocking fury.
Its hero, Aoyama (Ishibashi Ryo), runs a small video distribution company and is still mourning his wife seven years after her death. His teenage son tells him he ought to remarry, and Aoyama is inclined to agree, but how can he find the right woman? His ideal is modest, refined and accomplished in a traditional art, Western or Japanese, but where is he to find such a paragon among the vulgar, empty-headed masses of the younger generation?
His friend Yoshikawa (Kunimura Jun), a worldly-wise movie producer, has an ingenious, if underhanded, solution: Hold an audition for the starring role in an upcoming film and take his pick from among the hundreds of women who send in applications. The audition won’t be a total sham, Yoshikawa assures the conscience-stricken Aoyama – he really does intend to make a film, but the best bride material won’t be among the finalists. “An actress able to play the lead in a film wouldn’t marry you,” his sage friend tells him. “And women like that aren’t suited for marriage anyway.”
What Aoyama finds, after sifting through piles of resumes, is Yamazaki Asami (Shiina Eihi), an attractive young woman with a haunting gaze, twelve years of ballet training and a refreshing seriousness about life. After suffering an injury that ended her dance career at the age of eighteen, she writes in her resume essay, she underwent a shattering personal crisis and “learned to accept death.” Clearly a woman after his own heart!
Aoyama is even more enamored when he meets the lovely, mysterious Asami at the audition, and he all but declares his intentions. Undeterred by Yoshikawa’s urgings to go slow, Aoyama decides, after a couple of dates and one passionate weekend at a hot springs resort, that Asami is the one for him.
What he doesn’t see, when Asami answers the phone in her mess of a room, is the sack in the background, filled with a writhing human form. Love is blind, goes the cliche – Aoyama is about to discover how dangerous blindness can be.
Working from a novel by Murakami Ryu, Miike and scriptwriter Tengan Daisuke carefully lay a trap for the unsuspecting Aoyama, while playing straight with the audience. But however aware we are that Asami is bad news, we can’t imagine how bad until she removes her mask – and stands revealed in all her sweetly smiling, cruelly implacable rage.
Shiina Eihi, then a model with no film experience, was perfectly cast as Asami. Pale-faced, with large, liquid eyes that can look soulful one moment, stone-cold the next, she played Asami to double-jointed perfection. Meanwhile, rock-vocalist-turned-actor Ishibashi Ryo turned in a performance far removed from the tough guy types he then usually played. He injected vulnerability into a character who, in other hands, might have seemed simply self-centered and obtuse. Even so, is it possible to sympathize with his Aoyama, who misrepresents and manipulates? Some have called the film’s climax, with its plunge into shock horror, righteous feminist revenge. Others have described Asami an avenging angel, though from Aoyama’s perspective, psychotic demon is more like it.
Whatever the interpretation, Audition proved that the reputation Miike then had abroad as maker of cheap genre products that violated every known norm of taste was both limited and wrong. Instead, it showed that one of the leading Japanese directors of his generation had finally come into his own.
Born in Osaka in 1960, Miike Takashi attended Imamura’s film school in Yokohama. He also was an AD for Imamura on Zegen (1987) and Black Rain (1989). In 1991 Miike made his directorial debut with the straight-to-video film Eye Catch Junction. After that he became something of a specialist in the yakuza genre, adding heavy dollops of grotesque violence and serving with black humor. In 2003, One Missed Call, a J-Horror film, was his first major box office success. After this he alternated big-budget commercial projects with smaller indie films such as Gozu, a surrealistic gangster pic. Altogether Miike has made more than 100 titles.
1991 – Eye Catch Junction
1996 – Fudoh: The New Generation
1999 – Audition
2001 – Ichi the Killer
2003 – One Missed Call
2003 – Gozu
2005 – The Great Yokai War
2001 – Harakiri: Death of a Samurai
2013 – Shield of Straw
2021 – Mole Song Final