Audition (1999)

*. I started off my notes on Visitor Q by saying that Takashi Miike deserves some consideration as one of the top directors of the twenty-first century. Certainly right at the turn of the millennium he was churning out brilliant, ground-breaking work at speed. Titles like Visitor Q, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, and Audition.
*. Miike’s stories, when his films have a story, aren’t that important. What stands out is his ability to conjure a weird and grotesquely violent parallel reality that’s located just next door. He does this mainly through his photography. Miike’s world is very much our own — domestic, urban, blighted and dirty — but it’s made to seem infused with a spirit of art. It is our world transformed through the way a shot is framed and composed, and through correspondences that we might not notice.
*. I’ve talked about Miike’s eye before, most extensively in my notes on Ichi the Killer. The only thing I want to add here is how it is used in a way that isn’t obvious but which nevertheless works to reinforce other aspects of the film.
*. I’ll give just a couple of examples. In the first place we have Asami’s audition. We build up to this slowly through a checklist of candidates being crossed off. We haven’t met Asami yet, so we’re curious. And yet what happens? We don’t get a long zoom into where she’s sitting placed in front of us, but instead the camera turns around. We don’t see Asami at all but the camera slowly pulls in toward Aoyama. He is the one who is auditioning for her, the one being seduced. That’s the real action that’s happening in the scene.
*. Another example: In the scene before he takes her to bed for the first time, Aoyama looks at Asami standing by the bedpost. The bedpost is a weird corkscrew design, and it’s set quite deliberately against Asami, who is a narrow column, with her long straight black hair accentuating her smooth verticals. I think the way this shot is set up is clearly made to suggest how twisted Asami really is, how far from the plumb-line true of her profile.
*. These are both little things but Audition is full of such details and they combine to make the story, which is really just the usual psycho-woman Fatal Attraction set-up, work as well as it does.
*. On the Criterion DVD for Crazed Fruit there’s a moment when Donald Richie expresses confusion as to where the extreme anti-social violence of directors like Miike came from. It can’t be that surprising though. One of the things Audition presents itself as is a “state of Japan” film. It’s a nation full of lonely people, with the widower Aoyama looking for the stereotypical object to fit his home and lifestyle: a (much) younger woman who is “beautiful, classy, and obedient.” Well, to hell with that.
*. Given that anyone watching even for the first time would know where all this was going, Audition nevertheless sets its hooks and drags you along, making it impossible to look away even during the quieter moments.
*. I like how the score changes from the lounge-style pianos to edgy strings for the climax. That’s something else that sets the mood that you don’t necessarily recognize at the time. But then what’s with the pop song that plays over the end credits? It seems quite out of keeping with what we’ve just experienced. I know Miike likes to throw these curve balls into the mix, but still.
*. The only problem I have is with the dream sequence that occurs when Aoyama goes unconscious. This is a very important part of the film as it provides a deeper look into Aoyama’s feelings and gives us as a lot of information explaining items that had until now been left mysterious. Most obviously, it shows us what’s in Asami’s bag.
*. But can we credit it? It seems clearly meant to be an exploration of Aoyama’s subconscious, as it contains characters Asami hasn’t met (like the co-worker and Shigehiko’s girlfriend) and doesn’t proceed logically. On the other hand, Aoyama hasn’t seen the bag, so it makes no sense that he would know what’s really inside it. But we know there is a bag because we’ve seen it. Is there any way of resolving this?
*. I wonder if they should have bothered with the story of Asami’s childhood abuse. Usually in such stories they don’t, because in the end it’s only going to be a throwaway bit of amateur psychology. I would have been fine if they’d just left her back story a mystery.
*. As it is, Asami’s psychology doesn’t do much for me. She fears betrayal so she wants to make men totally dependent on her, like pets. Her amputation of their feet obviously recalls the hobbling of James Caan in Misery. She also fetishizes pain because it’s more real, which should make her into a cutter but the only scars we see are the old burns on her legs. If the experience of pain is so enjoyable, why isn’t she trying it?
*. This one isn’t as weird as some of the other movies Miike was making at the time. In some of the ways I’ve mentioned, it’s very much in a Hollywood tradition. For years there has been talk of making an American version, but that seems pointless to me as that film has already been made many times, both before and since. Furthermore, I don’t think a remake would work. This is an old story, but it’s presented in a way that’s so polished, accomplished, and sure of itself that I don’t think it can be improved upon. We should let a sleeping Asami lie.

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