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MrBeaks Raves About Takeshi Miike's AUDITION!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I'm working to finish up my Fantasia coverage tonight, but I've still got nine movies to work my way through in screener form here at the Labs, including VISITOR Q, a supposedly lunatic offering from Takashi Miike, who I am rapidly becoming a fan of. MrBeaks, our man in NY, has just seen AUDITION, which played to great acclaim at the 2000 Fantasia Festival, and which I need to see as soon as possible. Sounds like he loved it, too. Check this out...

AUDITION (d. Takashi Miike, w. Daisuke Tengan, based on a story by Ryu Murakami)

After a tragic prologue, involving the death of a spouse, and a father’s inability to inform his son of his mother’s passing, director Takashi Miike treats us to a long shot of the newly motherless pair walking aimlessly down a boulevard, staggering toward a sad, uncertain future. The solemn quietude of this moment is subtly broken by the red-hued credits slicing lengthwise with a surgical precision in the top righthand corner of the screen. Suddenly, there’s a foreboding to go along with the empty sense of loss, a tonal balancing act which Miike will be performing throughout most of AUDITION. And then he will level the audience with one of the most shocking third acts in recent memory.

I’ll warn you right now: the best way to experience AUDITION is to know as little as possible before going in, so I’ll suggest you hang around for the first part of the plot summary, stop reading once you have a sense of the premise, and, then, start harassing your local art house programmer until they book this puppy for a one-week run. Tell them whatever pseudo-prestige garbage Miramax is hawking – whether it be EVERYBODY’S FAMOUS or THE CLOSET – is an offer they can and should refuse.

Based on an apparent FATAL ATTRACTION retread, AUDITION, after the elegant pre-credit sequence, brings us forward seven years to find that Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi), still widowed, has weathered the heartbreak to successfully raise his son, Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki), a curious, dinosaur-obsessed lad just beginning to discover the opposite sex. When Shigehiko informs his father that he looks older and “plain”, it spurs the lonely, forty-something video producer to consider re-marrying, an idea he floats by his director pal Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), who instantly devises a plan to hold an audition to help the particular Shigeharu find a wife from a pool of attractive, young actresses. When sifting through the pile of resumes and headshots forwarded him from Yoshikawa, Shigeharu, as if by the dictates of fate, spills his tea onto a submission from Asami (Eihi Shiina), an alluring, ballet-trained 24 year-old with a tragic past, and he is instantly smitten with her mature attitude toward the various, unforgiving curveballs life has thrown her. Though Yoshikawa finds that the information provided on her resume is a tad suspect, Shigeharu disregards his warnings and plunges forward into a relationship with the mysterious young Asami.

What follows is best not discussed, though it should be noted that the ending had me recalling both LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE for films of comparable shock value, but that’s only on the surface, as Miike’s work has far more going on underneath than those 70’s grindhouse mainstays. What sets AUDITION apart is its thematic ambiguity as it invokes concepts such as the tradition-bound, subservient treatment of women in Japan (all women in the film are either secretaries, maids, or potential housewives), the possessive nature of marriage and relationships in general, and, that old David Cronenberg favorite, male sexual dread. What I found most remarkable about AUDITION is how all three interpretations over which I was musing dueled for dominance throughout the film, only to seem somewhat secondary, or even wrongheaded, upon reaching the denouement, where the key dialogue replayed in voiceover seemed to negate everything considered beforehand. I can’t remember the last time I stumbled across a horror film this brainy.

Credit, then, Takashi Miike, the prolific, for-hire auteur of countless gangster films (SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY, DEAD OR ALIVE 1 & 2), who has, with AUDITION, demonstrated a knack for toning down the histrionics – if you’ve seen DEAD OR ALIVE, you know what I mean – in favor of leisurely character development and long takes. His ability to segue effortlessly from disquiet to full-bore terror makes me wish he’d abandon the Yakuza flicks altogether in order to concentrate on horror full-time, since he easily outclasses any current practitioner in the ever-embattled genre, but Miike, throughout his brief career, has appeared to have few qualms with hacking it out through some truly uninspired material. In fact, his unabashed commercial sensibilities account for AUDITION’s sole flaw: the audition sequence itself, a routine montage that seems directly plucked from a mid-80’s comedy. Still, even a sequence so seemingly out of place is defensible if only for the disarming effect it has on the audience.

Now, let’s get down to the essential business of praising Eihi Shiina, the lithe, model-turned-actress, who takes the Glenn Close-esque harpy role and infuses it with a dangerously erotic combination of timidity and impish malevolence. Her work opposite Ryo Ishibashi, whose naturally sad features seem calibrated to ensure constant sympathy, shames modern-day femme fatales like Sharon Stone and Kim Basinger, and if Hollywood doesn’t come calling, then just consider it Japan’s gain.

Perhaps the biggest shock of all regarding AUDITION is that it was originally released in 1999, meaning that it’s taken two years for a film of such rare quality to receive its US debut. Though I can’t in good conscience recommend it as the perfect date movie (unless you’re in one of *those* relationships), I will promise that the post-film discussion will be more substantive than usual. And I doubt you’ll ever submit to acupuncture again in your life.

“Deeper….. deeper…..”

AUDITION is scheduled for a two-week run at the Film Forum in New York City beginning August 8th.

Faithfully Submitted,

Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 5, 2001, 7:53 p.m. CST

    first... about a year ago

    by One Punch Mickey

    I saw AUDITION about this time last year at the Edinburgh film festival and just loved it. The tension of the third act is so torturous I had to down five pints of guinness just to relax. My thanks to you MR. Beaks (for inform us that it will be in the NY area) because I now have a summer film I can look forward to seeing, again.

  • Aug. 5, 2001, 8:15 p.m. CST

    Great horror film but...

    by Thunderball

    i've seen this over a year ago and there's already been a write-up on this flick at this site. I don't understand why it's being reviewed here now, again. It's a scary film that's well worth catching but it's old news. It's available on video as an import.

  • Aug. 5, 2001, 10:36 p.m. CST

    overrated

    by camembert

    I saw Audition, and indeed the finale is quite strong, but I also thought this was a "lazy" movie. So some rave about the sudden and unexpected switch to really nasty horror, well, if somebody kicks you in the groin for no reason, that's an unexpected shock as well, but is it good? I have the same feeling with Audition. FYI, you can buy it on official DVD for something like $8 on Hong Kong dvd sites - but you need a region-free player. Really, I thought it was an "easy" movie, it is rather well made technically but it feels calculated towards an arthouse audience.

  • Aug. 5, 2001, 11:14 p.m. CST

    This is fine and all.

    by Foreskin_Jones

    I will see this movie when I get the chance. But what about "Dead or Alive 2"? has anyone else besides Moriarty seen this? That movie sounds Mondo Kick Ass.

  • Firstly, in response to the Showgirls loving femme above, yep Nomi, both Ring and Ring 2 are currently available on Region 0 and Amazon.co.uk. Predictably, extras-wise, they aint exactly drool-worthy but what they do have is still interesting: cast/crew profiles, essays on each film, some cool as hell trailers. Ring has the awesomely creepy UK trailers for itself and part 2, as well as Audition's freaky preview. Ring 2 - if you're actually interested in buying this good, yet infinitely inferior sequel has the Japanese trailers for the entire trilogy, yet these trailers are so painfully Americanised, in that they run for way too long, showing way too much, whereas the UK trailers were short, sharp and godDAMN creepy. Also, we had Audition around March-time and yep, Mr Beaks rules, it is one awesome mindfuck of a film with all-round brilliant acting and direction - Takashi Miike IS a god and i cant wait to buy it on dvd next month (it'll probably be region 0 as well Nomi, just so ya know)

  • Aug. 6, 2001, 1:34 a.m. CST

    Audition, Tell Me Something, Dead or Alive...

    by Frank Black

    ...All on DVD if you have a multiregion dvd player. The days of waiting years to see these amazing movies are over, and good riddance. American movies have gotten worse and worse. I got my multi-region dvd player a few months ago for less than $300 and have since enjoyed "Audition", "Tell Me Something", "Shiri", "Battle Royale", "Tomie", "Crossfire", and so much more. Of course American studios have created codes to prevent certain DVD's, like region 1 "Snatch" from playing on a multi code system, but lo and behold I was able to play it anyway. Now with my big screen tv and my multi code DVD player, I have an art house movie theater in my freakin living room and no one is yappin during the movies and I decide the release dates. This, my movie loving friends, is the beginning of a minor revolution. Region codes are stupid and the studios suck. Global release dates are the only way for studios to control their properties because the walls are coming down.

  • Aug. 6, 2001, 6:11 a.m. CST

    Why Run A Review Now, And Distribution

    by mrbeaks

    AUDITION is just now getting its initial release here in the States, and I wanted to get the word out on what I feel is one of the year's best films. Apparently, Moriarty agreed. As for booking this film, Nomi, tell the woman at your local art house that the last thirty minutes rival REQUIEM FOR A DREAM in terms of sheer shock value, and that she can rely on a mountain of positive to rave reviews that should only be growing once the NY crix reviews hit on Wednesday.

  • Aug. 6, 2001, 6:47 a.m. CST

    a great movie

    by tishead

    i've seen this movie on bruessel fantasy film festival (march), but it opened in germany in february, i think ... and i must say for a 16 year old it is really shocking.. the third act is so unbelievable,,, a great deep horror erotic thriller.. and this girl, she looks so innocent... wow

  • Aug. 6, 2001, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Multiregion DVD Player

    by Schlock_Cousteau

    Frank Blank: Where might one acquire a multiregion DVD player? Especially one under 300 c's.

  • Aug. 6, 2001, 9:21 a.m. CST

    by Ebben

    I just received an email concerning news of the Reg 0 dvd release of Audition and to say it is somewhat disappointing is one HELL of an understatement. I, for one have been extremely happy with the way the BBFC has been relaxing that damn tight sphincter of theirs and finally releasing a whole stream of long banned films onto video and the big screen. Having enjoyed this run, it is rather depressing news to note that they have made a complete u-turn and will be releasing Audition with some major cuts (shit the last third will be lucky to run 10 minutes by the time they've had their way.) However, there will apparently be more effort toward improving the quality of the dvd (in the light of the far from impressive Ring discs) but I'm not entirely sure if that concerns extras or the general picture/sound quality. I mean, a commentary would be nice an all, but if you've "listened" to the commentary on the awesome German flick Anatomy, I'm sure you will have come to the same conclusion as I, that the only thing that should be subtitled is the freaking movie! Anyway, if like me, you really NEED to see every last second of that poor bastard's leg being sawed clean off, go to http://www.orientalfilms.co.uk/

  • Again, I say d'oh!

  • Aug. 6, 2001, 11:25 a.m. CST

    pssstttt!

    by Frank Black

    I bought my multi-region dvd player at Kim's video in NYC. You can also buy them in Chinatown here in NYC. I have seen them advertised on various European web sites that sell DVD's. Kim's might mail one to you. I don't know how they work their mail order system but you can find their information on a wen search. Mine is a Sampo and worth whatever you pay for it. Good luck!

  • Aug. 7, 2001, 5:38 a.m. CST

    Thanks for the tip, Frank

    by Schlock_Cousteau

  • Aug. 8, 2001, 5:07 a.m. CST

    by Spangle

  • Aug. 8, 2001, 5:10 a.m. CST

    Audition is not uncut

    by Spangle

    I E-Mailed the BBFC today,and Audition has been passed for DVD release completely uncut -I haven't seen it yet,but I'm looking forward to it a lot!

  • Sept. 23, 2006, 3:18 a.m. CST

    lol

    by aestheticity

    lol, ... lol

  • Sept. 23, 2006, 3:20 a.m. CST

    omg

    by aestheticity

    lol