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Audition
1999 (2002) - Chimera Entertainment (Ventura Distributors)

review by Aric Mitchell of The Digital Bits

Audition

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B+

Specs and Features

115 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, dual-layered, custom paper case, audio commentary by director Takashi Miike, video interview with director Takashi Miike at the American Cinematheque Theatre, video tour of the Egyptian Theatre, theatrical trailers (U.S./international and Japanese), photo gallery, Takashi Miike biography/filmography, preview trailers for additional Chimera/American Cinematheque titles, liner notes, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: Japanese (DD 5.1 Surround), subtitles: English

Few films from the horror genre terrorize their viewers like this graphic, deliberately paced gem from director Takashi Miike. Audition shifts from first to fifth gears without warning and leaves you feeling somewhat deceived by what you've witnessed. However, the change is intentional and the result is one of the best recent horror efforts on any level AND in any country.

It starts with Aoyama (a widowed TV producer) holding mock auditions for Ms. Right at the behest of his best friend. The role is for the lead in a fictitious network production. Asami is a mysterious young lady, who hopes to land the part, but ends up capturing the real role instead. These two people share equally traumatic histories, but different forces of nature bring out their back-stories. Aoyama lost his wife to sickness. Asami survived something much more sinister. For a moment, it seems the two may have actually found happiness in each other - until Miike forces us to see the world from a heinous reality as we enter Asami's past and learn in mercilessly visceral fashion the woman she is and how she came to be.

As social commentary, the Asami character should be admired for her strength of will and utter disregard for resignation. While on the surface she seems like an afterthought, she proves herself capable of living in a man's world and making it her own. She has many layers, but as each one peels away, we're left with an uglier, more aggressive truth. She's a survivor. Even a predator. One example of this is the gruesome surprise Asami has stored away in a burlap bag on the floor of her apartment. She's obviously no stranger to the ability of taking powerful men and reducing them to mindless, tormented shells that would lick a bowl of her own vomit if she sat it down in front of them (unfortunately, I'm being quite literal). In fact, the men in her life have a history of holding great power, only to have her assume brutal control when she grows fearful they'll one day tire of her and say good-bye.

At the film's outset, there's something very bothersome about the actions of the male characters. Putting women in a competition against one another for the affections of one man is pompous, and Aoyama's agreement to the process shows a dark side to his human decency. However, it's difficult to see his inevitable suffering as an even trade. He is a man, and he has agreed to something chauvinistic, but his underlying interests are both well intentioned and externally motivated by his other more secure male counterparts (namely two, his best friend and teenage son). What makes Aoyama's foolish choice to play along so forgivable is his vulnerability. In a way, he's as victimized by his own gender as his female cohorts. He rushes into the decision to have an audition because of pressures forced upon him to move on when perhaps he's not quite ready to do so. He shares qualities likened traditionally to women, thus the conflict between his own masculinity and the ideals of those he trusts are thrust against his more feminine nature. He's kind, sensitive, nurturing and ready for commitment after many agonizing years alone, with nothing but the upbringing of his son to quench the thirst for companionship. The crux of the film's events all rest on this one decision Aoyama makes to follow his friend's idea and his son's "move-on-with-your-life" encouragement down a very dark road from which he may never return.

Guiding Aoyama on his terrifying journey is Asami, one of the most fascinating female leads to grace the horror genre since Jessica Walter's turn as Evelyn Draper in Clint Eastwood's too-often-overlooked Play Misty for Me. However, these two homicidal characters are far from alike. Draper was more of a thickheaded, proud, obsessive psychopath, while Asami's straightforward neurological misfires can be largely attributed to abuse, neglect and a perpetual fear of loneliness. Neither woman is someone you'd want to meet at the local bar or dance hall, but they have distinguishing human characteristics, agitated to an insatiable degree by their perceptions of what men do to them. In Play Misty for Me, you never really get a clear picture of what caused the imbalance in Draper's head. Audition is not quite so viewer-friendly, and the explicit details work to build sympathy for the destructive Asami. Her heartbreaking life mixes with the meekness of Aoyama to put the viewer on a collision course with tragedy. And with a gruesome, intense final 35 minutes, what a tragedy it is!

The video presentation on this DVD stops just short of top-notch. Colors are faded during the film's daylight portions, and the image is a little soft for an effort so recent. However, the picture quality is more vibrant in the final act, and the dynamic contrasts of light and darkness add to the horrific, displaced effect of the ending. This could be on purpose, considering Miike leads us to believe we're watching an entirely different genre for the first 90 minutes. Overall, it's not the best digital presentation out there and it's not anamorphic, but the letterboxed widescreen (presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio) leaves viewers plenty of viewing space and is highly watchable. As for the audio, the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is raw in tone, whether it's Asami and Aoyama sitting at a table indulging in polite conversation, or the former wrapping razor wire around an invalid old man's neck and squeezing tightly. For a horror film short on music and background noise, Audition could have gotten by on a stereo track with the same effect. Still, it's nice knowing Ventura did the best they could.

Rounding out the disc is a somewhat worthwhile basket of extras, ranging from deeply interesting to incredibly boring on the best and worst ends, respectively. Extensive liner notes on the film and Miike's body of work, an interview with the director from the American Cinematheque Theatre, a host of trailers, and a Miike biography supplement the package. There is a dull, 9-minute tour of the Egyptian Theatre and an involving, informative Miike commentary on the last 35 minutes of the film. How could a mind conceive something so unnerving? And how do you tell illusion from reality? Listen to this commentary after watching the film, and your every question will be answered.

It's very hard to imagine an American version of Audition succeeding on the same levels. Hopefully, we'll never be subjected to such an attempt. Ultimately, this film wins out because of what it has to say instead of what it has to show. There is graphic, leave-nothing-to-your-imagination violence here, but the social commentaries and vivid characterizations make these depictions of brutality all the more compelling. Such a notion is lost on domestic, watered-down horror. Whether this film is making a statement about male and female roles in society, relating to anyone who's ever experienced a bad break-up, or wrenching your gut with raw, unequaled, blood-soaked horror, Audition, like its female star, is a film with layers, surprises and ferocity.

Aric Mitchell
thedrummeraric@msn.com


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