Directed By Takeshi Miike
Starring Eihi Shiin, Ryo Ishibashi, Renji Ishibashi, Ren Osugi
It would be tough for me to believe that you are a regular visitor to this website and you don’t know the film Audition. This film came to the U.S. early on as part of the sudden flood of super edgy Asian films. Audition, from director Takeshi Miike was never outdone by any other Asian film. Some may actually be gorier but none have carried the same level of impact. Miike’s other seminal film Ichi the Killer is just as disturbing as Audition but even this film doesn’t have the weight that Audition does. Part of the reason Audition works so well is that it’s driven by character not by gore.
Shigeharu Aoyama has lost his wife. He and his son have lived alone since her death for seven years. He has become quite lonely. His friends and his son have begun to see the loneliness on his face. They begin encouraging him to seek out a new wife. His friend who works in the film industry convinces him to hold a fake audition of women. This would allow him to pick the “perfect” woman.
While going through a stack of head shots he spills a cup of coffee. In his haste to clean it up (a true Hitchcock moment) he discovers the file and head shot of Asami Yamazaki. As he looks at her picture and reads her file he discovers that this is truly his perfect woman.
During the audition process many woman answer a wide range of questions, they often perform a bit, and some even take off their clothes. Finally Asami arrives and he is smitten with her immediately. His friend gets a bad feeling from her right away and begins checking her references. Even though Aoyama and his friend can neither find any of her family, friends, or previous employers Aoyama can’t give up on her. Asami is one of those anomalies that you usually only get with little kids: she’s cute and creepy at the same time.
The first two acts of the film are slow paced but precise and focused on potential romance between the two leads mixed with a bit of a mystery. When the third act finally arrives it’s a shock to the system. The story takes an abrupt change and so does the filmmaking style. Asami is as expected not what she appears to be. She is something like I have never seen in film before. I won’t say anything else about plot specifics but suffice it to say that the entire third act is shocking and horrifying, It however leads up to a fairly quiet yet still powerful ending. The ending of the film was absolutely perfect. I actually rewound it and watched it again! The filmmaking style becomes a bit more frenetic in the third act to match the changes in plot. At times it feels like a completely different film until the closing moments when the style returns to a pace similar to the first act of the film.
This movie is about so much more than a strange romance gone wrong. This movie is about loss, about loneliness, and about people’s perception of each other. The first two thirds of the film are shown from Aoyama’s point of view and encompass his impression of Asami. In the last third of the movie you’ll find yourself re-living earlier events in the movie from Asami’s perspective. Conversations will be different at some points even the ambient sounds will be slightly different.
You’ll be talking and thinking about this movie especially this part for a long time. In the beginning two thirds of the film we see the conversations between Aoyama and Asami from his perspective knowing his history. At the end we see them again with her history included from her perspective. You’ll wonder at the end of the movie what was really said between them and what each of them actually learned from the other one. Once it’s too late Aoyama realizes he truly knows nothing about Asami. I’ll try not to give too much away but I will say that the violence at the end of the film is more than would ever be depicted in an American film. But does it make sense in the story? Absolutely.
For me the idea of perceptions goes a long way in this movie because in the extras you’ll learn that when the film showed to art house crowds in theaters they never expected the bloodletting that eventually occurs at the end of the film and they were incredibly disturbed by it. The first two thirds of the film had lulled them into a sort of comfort zone of a simple mystery film. I guess because I am familiar with the Director and with Japanese horror the bloodletting was expected. The first two thirds of the movie were very tense because I was waiting for the hammer to fall, so to speak. My wife commented that she felt like the movie is a vice tightening around her ever so slowly until the final climax.
Audition is a masterwork of filmmaking. The story is stunning, the acting (even though I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying) and the execution is perfection. If you want to see a truly different type of storytelling Audition is a must see film.
Without a doubt this is the best Audition has ever looked outside of a theater. With that said this is a far from perfect presentation. Detail levels are extremely high and for the most part black levels are rich and more vivid colors pop. All of it is presented under a thick layer of film grain though. Also the print that this blu-ray was struck from features a lot of speckling and other srtifacting. These situations aren’t present for the entire running time of the film and the positives definitely outweigh these issues.
In previous releases of this film to DVD the audio was often a bit muffled. For the most part that issue is cleared up with this HD release. The audio is presented in the original Japanese language in both Dolby TrueHD and in DTS HD Master Audio. Both mixes are fairly equal in quality. It really depends on what you have available in your home theater as to which option you pick. There are actually a couple of brief moments early in the film that the dialogue is still a little tough to hear but overall everything sounds excellent. Surround usage is often subtle but consistent offering up the ambient sounds and solid separation of the more disturbing sound effects. The biggest issue here is the utter lack of any sub woofer usage. It’s strange that the subwoofer stays so quiet considering how much dynamic range Shout Factory ahs brought to this new version of the film. Overall though this presentation doesn’t even seem like it’s the same film when compared to previous releases of the film.
The Bonus Features
The two disc set is presented in a thin blu-ray case with art taken from the original poster. This is a good thing because the art is awesome. The only other idea might be to hide more of what the girl is to make the third chapter more of a surprise but most people that will buy this off the shelf have probably already seen it.
Disappointingly the second disc of this two disc set is a DVD and not a blu-ray which means that none of the bonus features are presented in HD. Why not create the features in HD then present them in HD for the blu-ray release and then compress them to SD for the regular DVD release? The answer is obviously that having the same second disc in both the standard DVD release and the blu-ray makes the overall production cheaper. I get that but I don’t have to like it.
The most exciting bonus feature in this set is the feature length audio commentary with director Takeshi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan. In previous versions of the film on DVD there was only a very brief commentary from Miike on select scenes of the film. Now he speaks throughout the film. Miike is a surprisingly subdued guy so he can get a bit quiet but luckily Tengan keeps him talking. The commentary is very laid back but extremely informative. It’s fascinating to hear Miike discuss his process.
There’s an hour and 13 minutes of interview footage with the cast of the film here that’s all new. The cast members discuss working with Miike, their characters, their careers outside of this film, and there’s even some discussion of “Pink” films (Asian soft-core films mostly from the 70’s) and much more. It’s great to hear these actors discuss the film so many years after its release. There’s plenty of great information here.
Finally there are two trailers and two intros to the film, one from director Takeshi Miike and the second from Eihi Shiina (Asami). There’s not much variety as far as bonus features but what is here is all welcome stuff. There’s no fluff at all.
Every genre of film has a short list of must see films and Audition is definitely on the list of Asian horror films that are required viewing.
Overall <Not an average) 9/10
The Movie 10/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features (Not an Average) 8/10
Overall (Not an average) 9/10