on August 08, 2001 by Paul Clinton
What it lacks in savage wit, “Audition” more than makes up for in psychological horror. Director Takashi Miike presents an odd but arresting relationship between aging video producer Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) and a young woman (Eihi Shiina) who isn't what she seems. To find Aoyama a wife, a colleague proposes holding an audition for a nonexistent part in a nonexistent movie. That way, Aoyama can pick out the woman he wants. After interviewing dozens of candidates--in one of those breezy montage sequences that's a staple in the putting-on-a-show Broadway musical--Aoyama is drawn to Asami. His attraction to the girl, who is obedient and submissive but also robotic and withdrawn, leads him down a dark path.

Behind Asami's mask of shyness is an icy sadist who murmurs to Aoyama to “taste the pain” as she inserts needles in his eye sockets during the climactic scene.

Miike has a Bunuelian talent for turning our preconceptions on their heads as a scare tactic. Bunuel was out to show that the Catholic Church was anything but a protector. Miike's paranoia is about Asian women.

“Audition” is fairly slow going for most of the way--the first hour and a half is a drab setup for the scorching finale. Miike stages the last half-hour as if it were a terrible nightmare, giving “Audition” a genuinely surreal tone. It's never clear whether the gruesome events actually happen, lending the movie a satisfying ambiguity.

Some critics have misread the movie as feminist. Like Abel Ferrara's “Ms. 45,” it's about revenge. Miike does give Asami a motive during some horrific flashbacks, but the thrust of the story is from Aoyama's point of view of an older man's fears about marrying again after his wife dies.

The movie is based on a Ryu Murakami story. Many of the subtitles are badly translated and read awkwardly. Starring Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina. Directed by Takashi Miike. Written by Daisuke Tengan. Produced by Satoshi Fukushima and Akemi Suyama. A Vitagraph release. Horror. Japanese-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 115 min

Tags: Eihi Shiina, Ryo Ishibashi, Takashi Miike, horror, torture, psychological, nightmare, sex, filmmaking, needles

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