Audition (1999, dir. Takashi Miike) is a Japanese horror movie with an extensive cult following who praise the film for its disturbing nature, slow and tense pacing, and its use of realistic and surrealistic horror sequences. The storyline follows a widowed man Shigeharu Aoyama (played by Ryo Ishibashi) approximately a decade after his wife’s passing. Aoyama, who seems to remain dedicated to his late wife, is eventually convinced by his son Shigehiko (played by Tetsu Sawaki) to consider remarrying. Aoyama takes the idea seriously, wishing to find a perfect woman to be his new partner until death and initially does so in a very respectable way. He’s interested in a mature woman (in other words, someone closer to his own age) with a career and many accomplishments and skills/hobbies. But it doesn’t take long for Aoyama’s producer friend Yoshikawa (played by Jun Kunimura) to take control of Aoyama’s search by holding an audition full of incredibly young girls. Yoshikawa sends Aoyama home with the full list of auditioning girls, who all believe they’re auditioning for a movie, and asks him to choose 30 girls who he likes from the bunch. Of the hundreds, Aoyama only becomes attracted to one girl – Asami Yamazaki (played by Eihi Shiina), a former ballerina with a strange philosophy on life. From here, the narrative becomes shrouded in mystery as everyone but Aoyama believes that there’s something wrong with Asami, yet they can’t figure out what it is. Likewise, Asami has fits of going missing and leaving behind a trail of connections who have either been murdered or gone missing. Towards the film’s conclusion, both the audience and Aoyama discover what is wrong with Asami – and it’s much more severe than one could probably guess.
While the narrative is very engaging and intriguing the slow pacing was too slow for my taste. Majority of the film’s focus is building up the relationship between Aoyama and Asami and in creating tension behind what exactly is wrong with Asami. It’s not until the finale of the film that audiences see anything uncomfortable or disturbing take place. We spend the entirety of the film waiting for something to happen and when shit finally starts hitting the fan not only is it borderline incomprehensible and confusing but it’s also over incredibly fast – unlike the rest of the film. I don’t believe the lead up is worth the, for lack of a better word, “reward” at the film’s conclusion. The audience ends with some answers, but also even more questions than before.
The film is also stuffed with a lot of pointless filler which either never gets addressed again or could be condensed down. For example, Aoyama has a female employee whom he has a few interactions with and each time the woman behaves very strangely; staring at him for prolonged periods of time. Early on I believed this woman might come up in some way again and become an active role in the narrative. In fact, I specifically thought she might profess a secret love for Aoyama despite getting married soon, but I was wrong. She has two weird interactions with Aoyama and that’s it. She serves no purpose. As for scenes I think could be condensed down, the audition scene itself went on for far too long. I did enjoy the humor within this scene, with Yoshikawa asking out of pocket questions such as, “Have you had loveless sex?” but the scene is 10 minutes long. Before Aoyama attends the audition, the audience already knows the one girl who he has decided he’s after. So, why are we dragging the audition scene to be a full 10 minutes? It showcases all these girls we know we’ll never see again and eventually ends on Asami who the audience is already well aware is the only auditioning girl that matters. It does not need to take up so much time in a movie that already feels like it’s dragging against the ground.
When it was present, the horror of Audition was very unsettling and uncomfortable. I did enjoy the surreal dreamlike sequence of events that Aoyama experiences after being drugged by Asami. The movements and transitions of this scene I believe are meant to be confusing because dreams aren’t linear and surrealism in general is something I think Japanese horror tends to excel at very well. But some of the aspects were just too weird to understand why they were being brought up, such as Asami and Shigehiko’s girlfriend constantly switching places during a sexual interaction between Asami and Aoyama. I am open to accepting that maybe there was a reason but I’m not thinking about the implications enough to realize it. Also, for as much as I ragged on the narrative, I did enjoy how the tension was being built – I just think it was building for too long with little pay off in the end. The horror aspects of this film are incredible, but with horror only coming into play during the film’s finale it’s hard not to define Audition as more of a drama utilizing some disturbing imagery and a little gore to get the severity of the situation across.
While I do criticize this film for not being the best horror movie I’ve ever seen, this film does have a lot of thought and care behind displaying a particular message – specifically the discussion of the effects of childhood trauma. Asami is a tragic villain, or in other words she’s become a villain through her lifelong experience as a victim of physical abuse. In order to ease her pain she inflicts pain onto others. Likewise, Asami states her philosophy on life several times within the film and believes that no one truly knows themselves until they’ve endured a severe amount of torture. If the film were more focused on this aspect of the narrative, or if the narrative followed Asami more than it does Aoyama, I feel as if I might’ve liked it better. Asami is the most interesting part of Audition and much of her backstory is told to us in a very vague and confusing manner. It feels unfair to her character and the real life victims who resonate with her to brush off the entire reason she behaves the way she does in favor of Aoyama trying to play detective.
Audition – 87% -- B Tier
Audition wasn’t as disturbing as I thought it might be – which I’ve learned is often the case for me with movies that are widely regarded as “disturbing” – and the slow pacing made the film feel like it was dragging. I often looked to see how much longer I had to sit through and wondered when something scary or unsettling might happen. When the few uncomfortable scenes did appear, I found myself wanting for more as the film didn’t seem to want to linger on the unsettling aspects of its narrative very long – but thank god there’s 10 straight minutes of girls we’ll never see again being interviewed. Although, this is just a personal review of the film and there is a large audience that finds Audition to be one of the better and most disturbing horror movies to ever exist. I cannot say this though, for me Audition was just fine – nothing offensively terrible but nothing remarkable either.
Audition is available to stream for free through Tubi and Sling, and is available on the streaming platforms Amazon Prime Video and AMC+.