I wouldn’t say Audition has been a highly esteemed movie over the years, but it’s certainly somewhat notorious as a bloody, must see Miike movie. After watching it recently for the first time my reaction is a resounding “Ehhhh.” The foundation is good, but it sets such small goals and then swerves as it reaches them.
I’m completely content with films that forego traditional pacing issues to instead build up tension slowly before unleashing an intense conclusion. Audition clearly goes this route, but its grip on you early on is never tight, the tension is a horizontal line throughout the middle, and then, with just twenty minutes left in the movie, we finally see some rising action. I won’t even make you hit the jump to find out if it’s worth it. It’s not.
Right after the action finally picks up, it takes a huge step backwards that completely undermines the film and results in a cowardly ending twist. As for the gruesome part of the bloody finale, the outcome would have been completely mild if not for the acting quirks which carried 100 minutes of mediocrity on its shoulders. These are the bulk of the bad things about Audition. Read the rest of the review to find out the few things it does successfully in between its flaws.
Audition starts with a mother dying in a hospital and then jumps forward in time to the point where Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) and his teenage son have both moved on with their lives. They get along great, but when the father urges his son to bring more friends over he’s surprised to hear his son suggest he should start looking for new lady friends as well.
The beginning’s thin veil of campiness fades and we see Aoyama reach out to a Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), who works in the film industry. Both look like good actors who deserve better roles, and Yoshikawa figures out a way to help his friend in need: he’ll fake the creation of a new movie so that he can hold an audition for a female part that matches his friend’s taste in women.
At this point we even get a fun casting call montage and I was enjoying the unique plot setup, but from here on the film follows a dying lifeline with long, flat stretches that sandwich around a few frames that are interesting every now and then. Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) ends up being the lucky one, and we instantly know that this will mean Aoyama will end up being the unlucky one.
After an uneventful thirty minutes we see some plot holes emerge and Asami disappear. This void is filled with new side characters as Asami’s previous relationships are just touched upon, with every one of them changing from sour to ripe in a matter of seconds as time starts to run out. Another event that took place at breakneck speeds earlier in the film was the marriage proposal which I think was planned on the third date.
Once we finally arrive at the breaking point the movie starts to become disjointed in overly nonlinear scene progression to the point where Takashi Miike completely disowns each ending, which isn’t even worth getting angry over since both directions have flaws of their own to focus on. The result is picking from the best of the worst endings.
On one hand we have the ending with the payoff torture the audience had been looking forward to the entire movie, which honestly isn’t all that violent. Aoyama is only fully paralyzed when the scene calls for him to be, and apparently advanced acupuncture is cruel and unusual punishment. To be fair, Asami’s mannerisms and voice drastically help sell the scene, but when your finale is nothing more than a foot being sawed off, it leaves me wondering how a hundred other horror films don’t have more gore and fans to boast than Audition.
On the other hand we have a pathetically conflicting “But then I woke up!” ending to deal with. Further dream sequences reveal some sexual confusion as Aoyama realizes he no longer longs for Asami, but instead is just filled with a survival desire to be with any of the women he has contact with. Which is hardly a revelation since most of the females in the story are only developed enough to be sex objects to him later on. We also see this lame trick pulled on the dog, where it’s clear the dog is going to die the second he awkwardly has his own random scene from time to time. Sorry, Miike, this isn’t a good way to get your audience to invest emotions in a character.
Audition could have greatly benefited by showing Asami actually snap instead of showing us so much of her past abuses and severe isolation. The scene where she waits next to the phone all day is superb, but why make it only last for a few seconds? There’s not enough time to ever revel in anything creepy that Asami does. Audition is so quick to dispose of its few great scenes to return to monotony that it feels like the film’s scary moments are best summed up with five photos instead of five videos, leaving me to wonder why so many people love watching the entire movie.
Overall Score: 5.70 – Bad. (5s are movies that either failed at reaching the goals it set out to do, or didn’t set out to do anything special and still had many flaws. Some will enjoy 5s, but unless you’re a fan of this genre, you shouldn’t see it, and might not even want to rent it.)
Audition looks and feels nothing like its movie posters, which a film shouldn’t have to do, but I sure wish it did in this case. I could fit the cool scenes in this movie on a floppy drive, and the payoff we wait so long for is minimal. Two scenes of Hard Candy combined make for a more successful experience than this whole movie.
Overall Score: 8.10 — There’s a beautiful madness about this film. It’s elegant yet horrifying, cerebral yet violent. Though it moves at a slow crawl, it doesn’t take away from the psychological damage it will inflict. The very thought of piano wire used to reduce me to putty, and I am here to tell you that even after repeat viewings it’ll still make you cringe. You can read his full review here!