Audition (SE)/A-, B
American Cinematheque/1999/115/WS 1.85

     Every once in a while a film comes around that leaves you gaping with slack jaw and open mouth, unable to speak: Audition is that kind of film. It takes you by surprise. It leaves a disquieting feeling that there are things in this world you don't want to know about. This is not an easy film to watch as it takes its severe turns. One should approach Audition with great trepidation. You need a strong stomach to get through it all.
     Even when Audition is at its most conventional, it's not conventional. What begins as a standard domestic drama turns into a haunting romantic tale about the hope for late love for relatively young widower Aoyama. He finds his "dream girl" through a theatrical audition set up by a business colleague. Aoyama is one square guy. He's apparently a dedicated family man. Since his wife's untimely death years before he has lavished great attention on his one son and at the same time dedicated himself, or even buried himself, at work. The embers of normal life have been smothered by the need bury emotions. But an innocent remark from his son sets him on a path to find a new wife and everything changes.

Audition for a girl in a white dress. ©American Cinematheque

     Asami's resume catches at Aoyama's heart even before he meets her at the audition. She's the girl proverbial in the white dress. With the introduction of Asami's tale, strangely haunting from the first, Audition takes on hints of a ghost story. Still, it's not a ghost story. It's different. It's almost different from anything I have seen. In the end, I was not quite sure where Audition took me, only that it took me by the throat with its shocking style.
A thoroughly engrossing film. At times it may be somewhat confusing, but it is never short of riveting. Audition is very Japanese in its sensibilities. The overall ghost story feeling  builds like a distorted Noh play. The graphic violence harks back to some vicious Japanese films of the past like Shohei Imamura's 1979
Vengeance is Mine. Clearly, there are sadomasochistic strands permeating Audition. And Audition has strong surreal influences.
     Director Takashi Miike is unflinching in his vision. Characters are well drawn and very interesting even before Audition's engine revs up with a violent throttle. Certainly the situation is quite an interesting portrait of loneliness, hopes, and desires. Miike is audacious is his use of imagery. The way he combines disparate elements adds up to a unique experience. The pacing is hauntingly even, a most methodical. When tone changes or when there are surprises, the pacing still marches forward with same metronome precision. It's almost as if Aoyama is possessed by some terrible spirit. When the romantic inclination takes hold of him, he can''t quite control himself. Even when there appear to be warnings, he ignores them. 
     The actors are very effective. Ryo Ishibashi is so plain and mundane as Aoyama.  It's a simple convincing performance. Eihi Shiina is like a delicate flower slowly rotting as Asami Yamazaki.
     Audition does leave itself open to various interpretations. One can make their own call as to the true outcome of the film. However, there probably is good evidence to support one particular ending. What is reality. What is fantasy, dreams, nightmares?
    It's somewhat disappointing that the DVD was not anamorphic, but the transfer is quite good. It's a clean transfer. There are no offensive NTSC artifacts like straight edge jitter. Stable image, stable colors. There is some fine grain delivered very tightly. The Yellow English titles overlap the image partially and fall into the black letterbox area thereby preventing use of the zoom feature to blow the image up to fill a 16 x 9 screen. The Japanese Dolby Digital 5:1 Surround track was rather on the loud side and I dropped it down about 8 dB to find a comfortable listening level. Black levels are good, shadow detail is well executed. The image is sharp. It's very consistent from scene to scene.
    Dennis Bartok and Chris Dee, programmers for the American Cinematheque, conduct a video interview (Approx 24 minutes) with Takashi Miike. Miike speaks in Japanese and his comments are translated. There's also a translated commentary track from Miike that begins at chapter 18 and lasts for 36 minutes.
     Trust me: Audition is not a film that will be easy to forget. While there are inclinations to turn your head from the screen, it won't be easy to take your eyes from the screen either. Audition will remain with you, almost haunting you as Aoyama is haunted. Hopefully, it will not take possession of you.



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