Audition

This is going to leave someone with some issues surrounding trust
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1999
Director: 
Takashi Miike
Starring: 
Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura
The Setup: 
Widower holds a phony audition for a new wife.
Discussion: 

I’m always a little wary of writing about films that have been widely seen and picked apart, both because it’s difficult to feel I will have anything new to offer about them, and because in many cases so many theories have been thrown out about them one can only be conscious, while writing, of the amount of people considering one a fool. I don’t want to contribute to the great international conversation on film; I want everyone to accept my viewpoint and that will be that. Entirely reasonable.

Okay, so Audition. The film begins with a man, Aoyama, at the bedside of his wife as she dies. His young son is also around. Flash-forward seven years later, when we are treated to a fair amount of important-seeming information of the sexual characteristics of fish, and when the son tells his father that he’s looking old and should remarry. That comment would earn a knife in the eye in my household, but apparently Aoyama takes such cheek unperturbed.

So, while a lot of little touches happening in the background seem eerily significant—and I wasn’t even in an enhanced viewing state—and we notice that the cinematography is stunning, Aoyama tells his buddy the movie producer that he’s looking for a wife. The guy suggests that they stage a fake movie audition and Aoyama can choose a wife from the bevy of women who end up not getting the part. So they set it up and go through with it. Even before he meets her, however, Aoyama has focused on one woman, Asami, and barely pays attention to any of the other women. He is moved by her because she trained to be a ballerina, but was injured, and compared the giving up of her dream to accepting death. It’s funny, that’s what I look for in potential life partners, too!

Aoyama’s boss can see that he doesn’t really even pay attention to the other women, and tells him to chill out. He doesn’t like Asami, and soon tells Aoyama that parts of her story didn’t check out. Nevertheless, he has begun to see her, and they’re drawing closer together. We see her sitting in her apartment listening to a tape about “tomorrow’s heroine.”

Now here we’re going to talk about one of the great shocks of the movie, but one that has been widely discussed. Something about a bag. I had heard about it in several venues, and therefore any surprise it had was gone, but if you don’t know you really should protect your viewing experience. In fact, stop reading and skip to the bottom after the spoiler mark.

SPOILERS > > >
Now it’s about halfway through the movie, and we are seeing Asami waiting by the telephone, a large bag sitting in the middle of the room. We see it sitting there for a while, and then suddenly it jerks and moves, there obviously being something alive in it. I can only imagine the effect is must have had if you weren’t expecting it, as if you were completely unaware, the lingering dread that something terrible is going to happen—heightened and extended by the fact that everything we’ve been seeing so far has been straightforward melodrama—would suddenly explode. I guess—but not for me. Damn you, E!'s 100 Scariest Movie Moments! Anyway, seems like Asami is maybe not someone you want to get involved with.

So Aoyama’s friend is warning him not to call her, and his son is telling him that he’s blind in love. But he relents and they go away on vacation. She is conspicuously in all white, undresses and shows him these two nasty scars on her thigh. They have sex. I believe in here he tells her that the audition was a ruse, and asks her to marry him. She exhorts him to “Love me—only me.”

When he wakes, she’s gone. He spends a long time searching for her, checking out the places she says she’s been, like the ballet school and some restaurant. He keeps getting very ill portents—like her ballet teacher who is seriously disfigured, and reports of a guy she worked for who was chopped up into little bits. But he’s not deterred. Meanwhile we are seeing flashbacks to her young childhood, abuse at the hands of her ballet teacher, who is the one who burned her on her inner thigh. We learn that her parents died and she went to live with an abusive aunt and uncle.

Now the narrative really starts splitting. It’s hard to realize that we have left reality at first, but then you see that Aoyama is seeing things he couldn’t possibly know, and seeing Asami as a young girl at times, and we’re flashing back to conversations that are now slightly altered. Then one night he comes home, drinks a brandy, and passes out cold.

I’ll leave the details for you to discover, but basically Asami shows up and tortures him. In quite an unpleasant way. She upbraids him [in her soft, sing-song voice] for the deception of the audition, and how he loves people other than her when he said he would love “only me,” and says “words create lies. Pain can be trusted.” At one point Aoyama wakes up back at the hotel, and then Asami wakes up and says she agrees to be his wife! This would have been a fairly decent ending, but then all of a sudden he’s back on the floor being tortured.

So WHAT is going on? I’m pleased to see that no one really knows, that the ending of the movie is open to wide interpretation. The booklet that came inside the disc said that because of her abuse, that is the truest form of communication Asami knows, and she is in a sense sharing a deeply intimate connection with Aoyama in sharing her pain with him. Others read it as a straightforward revenge thing for him treating women so cavalierly. Then there’s the interpretation that he woke up back in the hotel, then fell asleep again. I tend to think the opposite, that he passed out and had a DREAM that it was all a dream, but is in fact on the living room floor. But I think the whole thing is deliberately not definitively resolved.
< < < SPOLERS END

So it’s certainly very well-done, and interesting to watch and think about afterward, and gorgeously shot. Nevertheless, I’m not sure I need to put myself through this kind of experience. The only previous movie I had seen by Miike was Gozu, which again was interesting and well-done, but even more unpleasant and not something I ever want to put myself through again. So personally, I am not going to running out and getting a bunch more Miike films.

Should you watch it: 

If you like. It’s certainly well-made and lots of people love it.