Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Audition (1999)


Directed by Takashi Miike

Prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike made his international breakthrough with this mischievous and beautifully controlled examination of spectatorship, generic expectation, and gender relationships. With its subtle hints that eventually lead to a nightmare world of sadism and torture Miike proves himself to be a filmmaker that audiences cannot trust. The slow burning narrative build up of the first half affords the male characters an opportunity to express their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) his emotional frailties centre on the persistence of his son in finding a replacement for the wife who perished several years before. Aoyama still loves his departed wife, but the idea of a sexual partner, and a housewife to keep everything in order is very attractive. Aoyama’s sexism is outmoded and old fashioned, but he is essentially an harmless individual. He doesn’t possess the same level of vitriol and spite his friends do at the rising number of women in the work place. Despite the dubious morality of holding a fake audition in order to find himself a suitable wife, Aoyama scarcely deserves the shocking punishment he suffers at the end of the film.

The screenplay by Daisuke Tengan, which was based upon the novel by Ryû Murakami, seems determined to challenge the patience and boredom threshold of the audience. The style is languid and apathetic, offering us muted shades and subdued melodramatics. But Miike provides enough tantalising hints of a decayed and apathetic underbelly that one perseveres. The first half of the film reminded me of the stately melodrama of Ozu’s post war output, with characters speaking few words, and behaviour that is unobtrusive and dignified. The shift in tone is barely perceptible at first but it centres entirely on the character of Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), the young women who has attracted Aoyama’s attention. Outwardly beautiful she conceals a devastating history of child abuse and cruelty. For Asami the distinction between love and cruelty is incredibly thin. A declaration of love is enough to prevent her cutting off your fingers and tongue and making you live in a sack for the rest of your life.

With the diseased mind of Asami comes a stylistic shift that reflects her abused and fragmenting psyche. We have enigmatic and ghostly sequences that echo the images being used in popular J-horror at the time, Miike drenches scenes with cold blues, passionate reds, or sickly yellows, and the narrative dissolves into flashback and flash forward in a highly confusing manner which suggests that Asami’s grip on reality is extremely tenuous. Her grip on sanity is even more flimsy, but it allows her the opportunity to indulge her interest in torture. Although Asami is upset at the fictional audition, and upset that Aoyama still loves his dead wife, the look of pleasure that shines in her eyes as she uses him like a human pin cushion confirms where her true desires lie. Falsely interpreted by some in the west as having a feminist message (feminism as a theoretical and cultural movement is virtually unknown in Japan), Audition works most successfully as an index of just how successfully an audience can be manipulated by a roguish and devious filmmaker.

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