Directed by Takashi Miike (1999)
by Sandy DeVito
This review may contain spoilers
Audition lulls you into a dreamlike sense of false security, then rips the carpet out from under you in the last hour with a horrific turn that leaves you bewildered and sick. Simply put, one of the best horror films of all time, predecessor and influence to countless stomach-churners that followed it (Hostel, The Devil's Rejects), this movie has far more nuance than 'torture porn', and succeeds in a horrible sense of dread that goes far beyond the disgust of physical violence. The viscera is just a mask for the more terrifying demons that lurk in the human psyche.
Aoyama, a widower, decides to hold tests (disguised as auditions for a film) to look for a new wife. As light-hearted and slightly melancholy as the first half of the film presents itself, there is an underlying current of unease that sours everything that occurs. Aoyama and his friend laugh and joke while they interview the girls, quipping that it's "like trying to choose a new car." Japan is a society that struggles still with deeply ingrained misogyny and gender imbalance in private and professional life, and Aoyama is a man who sees women as highly desirable only within certain parameters: youth, beauty, docility. Therefore he is enchanted by Asami, 24-years-old, seemingly timid and quiet, stunningly gorgeous. He immediately loses interest in the other girls, making an excuse to Asami as to why the fabricated movie fell through, overjoyed that she accepts and seems to be extremely enthusiastic towards his advances.
And then, oh boy. Around the hour mark, this movie delivers a prolonged sucker-punch of horror that makes you and Aoyama regret ever laying eyes on her. It's revealed Asami suffered agonizing child abuse at the hands of her mother and former ballet teacher, and that it's made her deeply disturbed. Her preferred weapon is a long, razor-sharp piano wire, wherewith she may dismember human limbs at will. It becomes clear she's murdered in jealous rage on more than one occasion in the past, unable to cope with her male love interests showing affection towards literally anything but her, and that she's currently keeping a partially-dismembered, still-living human man in a cloth bag in her apartment. She lets him out, tongue, fingers and feet removed, only to feed on her vomit. This scene is one of the most utterly inhuman and is delivered in a dream-like state of disbelief through what may-or-may-not-be a hallucination on Aoyama's part. We move through these scenes with him, unsure if they are real or a horrible imagining, leading up to Aoyama returning home following a sexual encounter with Asami at a hotel, after which she disappeared. What awaits him is a drugged bottle of scotch, and the true Asami.
There's an important emphasis here on distorted reality: of the warped ideals of society, of the nature of our existence, and the difference between our expectations and the awful, awful truth of everything. This movie is an indictment of the constant objectification and dehumanization of women by men, presenting a horrible comeuppance in the form of our malignant pseudo-villain. There is feminism here, presented by visually expounding on the impossible standards set for human women, and the ways in which it perverts human thought and emotion. For Asami, despite her unspeakable violence towards men, has suffered unspeakable violence herself from them for a long while before, revealing that the underbelly of human impulse is far from moral absolutes.
This film is notorious for its dark reputation, issued with a sort of simultaneous recommendation and warning by many (including myself) since its release. Like The Exorcist, there are stories about people fainting and rushing out of the theater when it was first shown, because this is definitely not for everyone. Its power is unmistakable, however, and it's an absolute must-see for anyone who wants the literal shit scared out of them with intelligence and poignancy. Audition towers over its genre as the reigning enfant terrible, exposing our monstrousness in all its hideous glory, and emphasizing the rich complexity of the inner lives of women far beyond the simple parameters men have set for us. One should never judge a book by its cover, nor assume that anyone is what you want them to be. Instead, we are what we are, and no amount of fantasy can truly conceal it.