Audition (1999) review

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Synopsis: A Japanese widower decides to hold an audition for a fake television show to find a girlfriend. He finds more than he bargained for.

Japan has been churning out horror movies for quite some time now, and many of them have gained cult status for American movie buffs. Several of them, like Ringu or Ju-On, have even received American remakes. While the film in question today has been rumored to be receiving the same treatment, I haven’t heard anything about it in a while. That’s probably a good thing because I can’t imagine that any English-language remake could be as powerful as Takashi Miike’s original.

Miike is, quite simply, a master of horror (he even did an episode of the titular Showtime series to prove it.) He’s one of my all-time favorite directors, and Audition was the first movie of his that I had ever watched. It’s a highly stylistic tale of a lonely man looking for love, and the crazy that often comes along with it. Audition is absolutely brilliant and is an outstanding example of genre-bending cinema.

We start out with a stereotypical Japanese romantic comedy. If you didn’t see the movie poster or any trailers, you’d have spent 3/4 of this movie enjoying a happy-go-lucky couple falling in love, followed by projectile vomiting when it changes gears and turns into an extreme foreign horror film.

Asami Yamazaki, our main character’s horrible, horrible paramour, is one bat-shit crazy chick. She might very well be my favorite female horror villain of all time. We begin to see something is not quite right about her when we meet her friend that she keeps in a bag at her apartment. She goes from bad to worse when we learn about her love of razor wire. Miike weaves a slow-burn thriller where nothing is as it seems, and when we realize what’s going on, it’s far, far too late. A truly incredible film, it’s one of the best and most believable horror movies to come out of Japan in a long time.

What makes this film so compelling is that Auoyama, the widower in this tale of horror, seems to be a genuinely nice guy. Sure, the premise of faking a dating show to get dates is kind of creepy, but who among us hasn’t lured young women on dates with false pretenses? He’s not the teenage kid, off smoking weed and having sex at a summer camp. He’s not somebody that we feel deserves his comeuppance. He’s sad, he’s lonely. He doesn’t deserve what Asami wants to do to him. So, we empathize, and we watch through our fingers as the film creeps towards the inevitable finish line.

The most interesting thing about Audition is that it’s so far removed from Miike’s normal film. Yeah, it’s all kinds of fucked up, but this is the guy that made Ichi The Killer, Visitor Q, and that aforementioned Masters of Horror episode, Imprint. He is a macabre master, but also tends to excel when he makes things weird past the point of insanity. Quite frankly, most of his movies are quintessentially Japanese. We always picture the most fucked up of the fucked up coming from across the ocean, and Miike is usually happy to oblige, but Audition just feels… different. It’s a hell of a movie, not just splatter gore and bizarre, black humor.

Audition deserves its place in the foreign horror pantheon, and you’ll see it on many of the “Most Disturbing” or “Sick and Twisted” horror lists. And yeah, I suppose it is, but it’s so much more than that too. There’s empathy to contrast our horror, and emotion to contrast our suspense. We feel bad for the main character and the villain. We know, from the very beginning, that there more than likely won’t be a happy ending, but we hope for one anyway. And even when we’re past that point, we’re not disappointed, because Audition gives us everything we can possibly be looking for in a foreign horror flick.