By Salem Reaves
Director of Art Design
Beautifully disturbing? Disturbingly beautiful? Or maybe just flat out disgusting? Takashi Miike’s Audition is a test of mind and stomach. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widower with a teenage son, Shigehiko (Testu Sawaki), who convinces him it’s time to remarry. Aoyama’s search for a wife is impersonal, though purely intentioned, and results in a head-over-heels love affair with an enigmatic younger woman (Eihi Shiina). The film plays with expectations in every possible way. From subverting ideals of womanhood to defying standards of the horror genre, Audition doesn’t want you to know what you’re watching. At least not until the last seconds of its runtime.
This is one of those films that’s best when you don’t know what to expect, but there are a few things a viewer should probably be aware of. If you’re at all squeamish, you may want to pass. Even watching through your fingers, Kenji Shibasaki’s sound design pulls invisible details to the forefront. The action builds slowly, but at its crux the film uses every sense to emphasize the underlying tension. Early festival screenings of the film have only added to the spectacle of Audition. Audiences formed long lines at theater exits, yelled at the director, and even fainted during the film.
Throughout my viewing, I alternated between covering the screen with my hands and having my eyes glued to the scene. For every simple grotesque shot, there’s an equally well-composed mundane one. What kept me from turning it off during the last twenty minutes were Hideo Yamamoto’s masterful cinematography and Eihi Shiina’s precise performance. Technical oversights such as a visible boom mic in one scene are contrasted with delicately executed creative choices.
I may not watch Audition again, but one viewing of this feat of storytelling is worth the discomfort. If you can make it through the apparent misogyny of the first acts, you can shoulder the brutality of the final ones.