A parade of lovelies marches before a middle-aged widower, each outdoing the last in their scraping for his attention. Some are bubbly, some are demure; some dance, some preen; all beg to be chosen. Making the strange and pathetic exhibition even sadder is the viewer’s knowledge that it is all a lie, an empty pageant where any of the aspirants are far better than the host deserves. This is most true for winner Asami, a timid former ballerina and classic beauty who captivates our widower Aoyama with coy smiles, breathless gestures, and averted eyes.
Of course, to know anything of Japanese shockhound Takashi Miike is to know that this is not going to end well, not going to end pretty. By the time he brought Audition to Cannes in 1999, Miike had been working in the Home Islands for years, having already directed dozens of projects and attracting a small group of dedicates to his hyperstylized, hyperviolent oddities. Still, France and the rest of the world was little prepared for the gamechanging clinical insanity of Audition. Amid throngs of walkouts, faintings and emergency medical calls, the film slipped into legend. J-Horror was born and Asami would prove an enduring example of what might be called The Malevolent Pixie Dream Girl.
Audition’s set-up is simple, if clever: An aging, widowed producer agrees to the ruse of a staged audition in hopes of finding a young girlfriend after enduring years alone. Talked into the scheme by a conspirator, Aoyama goes along with the plan easily, if without much verve, and is surprised himself, then, to develop sudden, strong feelings for one contestant who checks every box on his list of desirable traits in a mate.
Aoyama’s brief courtship with the beautiful if enigmatic Asami goes well, even if he can’t (or doesn’t want to) account for her lack of references, boarded-up home address, or missing family. He dismisses the fears of others who call out the violence Asami seems to have left in her wake, and he does not really consider Asami’s demands of him. Then again, what is she asking for? She asks only that Aoyama love her, only her. PLEASE LOVE ME, ONLY ME.
The final third of the movie brings Aoyama into the darkest consequences of his lies as Asami leads the man to ends from which he cannot walk away. Meanwhile, as methodical as she is, our ballerina is less Master Villainess with The Perfect Plan than some historical inevitability. Her insanity is an entirely logical outcome of the insanity in which she has steeped. When she states, “You only realize who you are by going through pain and suffering,” Asami shows just how realized she is.
Audition is a singular triumph — part Meet Cute-romcom, part complex psychological study, all killer. Miike would direct dozens of movies since 1999, but none would match the razor-wire tension and grand guignol of Audition. Maybe you don’t require your horror so high-falutin’ – if not, you may at least never look at lumpen burlap sacks the same way again.
John Clark is a local non-celebrity with a pension for pain, and Chihuahuas. If you like a good retweet (FROM THE VOID!), follow him at @egjc_wa.