Version I Watched: Standard definition DVD.
History: This film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name written by Ryu Murakami (Daijobu mai furendo, Tokyo Decadance, Nikkei supesharu kanburia kyuden), adapted to the screen by Daisuke Tengan (The Eel, September 11, 13 Assassins) and directed by Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer, Three... Extremes). The film has made a strong cult following over the years. It's been considered quite controversial since day one for it's sadistic violence. So harsh that when it was presented at the 2000 Rotterdam Film Festival a furious woman walked up to the film's director telling him he's evil. On Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments famed directors such as Eli Roth and Rob Zombie admitted to cringing during it's more intense moments. Coming from those guys you know it's made an affect.
My Personal History: I first found out about this after diving deep into the Japanese horror film genre back in high school. I've only seen it a couple of times. I do plan on watching it tons times more because it's so great and creepy I couldn't imagine giving it up.
Review: If you've read this far you already know this is a harsh and intense film. This one is not for the faint of heart. Also before I continue I must point out my love for horror. It's one of one if not my favorite genres, despite having a reputation for being pretty terrible most of the times. When it gets it right, oh boy does it get it right! I personally believe one of the reasons many people don't like horror is because it makes them uncomfortable or they don't like getting scared. This is a shame that these people don't appreciate the exact purpose horror has. If you leave one feeling disgusted, terrified, afraid to go asleep, then it was a job well done. It is a niche audience, I agree. It's the same reason why I'm not all about wholesome, feelgood tales all the time. Just not interested. I do love the thrill of getting scared! Sometimes that scare comes from the simple graphic nature of the film. It could be the violence happening on screen. It could be the environment or tone of the films. All I know is if it's creeping me out, I am enjoying it.
Audition starts out on quite the downer note as is. Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is at his wife's death bed. She dies only moments before their 10 year old son walks in with a get well soon gift. Fast forward seven years and Aoyama is still without a companion and his son has grown to be the teenager he is now. It has become apparent that he needs to remarry. He pulls together an audition for a movie that will never be made in order to meet women. Just like my last review, Last Chance Harvey, this is when the creep factor comes into play into this film. Here we're presented with the films antagonists that we're supposed to love and cheer for but we're given guys who do, realistically, totally creepy things to get their way to the plot. The major difference here is in Last Chance Harvey he was being really forward whereas here Aoyama is being deceptive. He knows the film will never be made, so he lives a lie if he marries the woman he meets? Depending on your conscience that could be heavy in time. The auditions seem to go on forever. This is where he meets Asami, a woman he chose was the one before the auditions even began, based on what she wrote in her interview.
The creep factor of Aoyama is soon forgotten because this is when the creep of Asami begins. Asami is a really cute, shy, appearing to be introverted girl who has a love of ballet. She feels like such a sweet and quiet girl. Now, when Aoyama finally decides to call her after the audition here we see her sitting directly in front of her phone waiting for him to call. When she hears the ring she sadistically smiles. Not out of a girlish glee or feelings of a crush, she shows evil in her eyes. And wait a second... what's in that sack behind her? Is that thing moving?!
The films continues to move on a nice, steady pace keeping the creepy alive. "But Dane? When's the REALLY scare stuff gonna happen?" be patient now.
They continue to meet on dates. One thing that is made subtly clear is how everything about her life is conveniently unable to be researched. She works at a bar but Aoyama isn't allowed to stop by, she loves ballet but can no longer do it due to an injury, etc, etc. All seems awfully convenient that the only thing that can be known about her for sure is what she presents. Even that is skeptical. Her facade she shows in her beauty hides dark desires. Despite all these things Aoyama is very head over heels for Asami. He expresses his desires to propose to her during a weekend getaway he has planned. Propose! I am not 100% familiar with how Japanese culture differs from American culture but if I'm not mistaken they've only been dating what, a few days? Maybe a week or two? The film has not given the impression a lot of time has passed.
Things take a quick turn when Asami vanishes without a trace on the same trip he planned on proposing at. He can't find her, doesn't have many methods of getting in touch with her, and he doesn't know her address so he can't look for her at home. After doing some research on his crush Aoyama makes some disturbing discoveries. Such as the dance studio she claims she used to dance at is run down only occupied by a crippled man who seems to like to sit in the dark alone playing the piano. Things come to an even creepier tone with every scene that passes at this point. This is also when the exposition breaks off into a very different direction that I question a bit. Aoyama comes back home to have a drink. Suddenly he feels strange and what appears to be faints. One would assume he broke off into a dream sequence and this what it feels like. A lot is learned about Asami. For example we find out the burns on the inside of her leg revealed a little earlier in the film were a form of sexual abuse by what we're led to believe is her dance instructor, or something... honestly I'm not sure. It's never made fully clear. It's also revealed what's in the sack. Allow me to detail the scene we find out. Aoyama has been jumping from place to place through location and time. Eventually he winds up in Asami's home. The sack opens up and what comes out is a man with three missing fingers, a missing ear, and a missing tongue. Asami is behind Aoyama vomiting into a dog bowl. She takes it up to this disfigured man and he dives in like he hasn't eaten in weeks. Asami simply pets him like he's a pet. it's vulgar, graphic, and disgusting... and very effective.
The "dream" sequence goes through plenty more but I won't spoil it all for you. It lasts a good fifteen minutes with him waking up to the horror of the most iconic scene in the film. First a commentary. One of my thoughts that really causes a different perspective on the film is what's real and what isn't. Yes the ballet studio really did exist. I can believe she used to be a ballerina. We actually do see her burn marks on her leg outside of the dream sequence so it's easy to believe she got burned (DAAAAAYAM! YOU GOT BUUUURNED!) but by who? Was it really her teacher (Father, uncle, the janitor)? Also we know that Asami had something living within that sack. There were clues given that say it can be connected to a previous event with the missing pieces of their body. But my biggest beef with the exposition in the dream sequence is a lot of it involves things Aoyama was never present for. Not are these things taking place locations he's been. I get the scene when he introduces Asami to his deceased wife. That makes sense. And the sense of imagination can create a few of the other things. But when it comes down to it all a lot of these things weren't confirmed or denied in the real world forcing the audience to choose between whether it's all real, whether it's really bad exposition, or it's just an excuse to do something really messed up. None the less the scenes were great! I love obscure and out of this world elements coming into play. When I was trying to put the puzzle pieces together there were a few things that didn't fit.
Now for the part that's makes this one well known. It's on the box art of every edition you'll find or at least something from this scene. It's the scene when Asami tortures Aoyama. What was slipped in Aoyama's drink before he fainted paralyzed his body. It's a special kind of paralysis because he can't move but can still feel throughout his body. That way he can suffer through it all as Asami states. Her methods are slow. She starts with a hand full of needles. She places them delicately deeper and deeper into his body causing him pain. She smiles like a school girl playing hopscotch (or like, 4 square, that game is fun) audibly saying "deeper deeper deeper." What's weird is the way she says it is almost cute, causing a strange feeling in the audience's minds. She moves up to his eyes doing the same she did on his torso. Shoving the needles under a persons eyes looks immensely painful. Then comes the big one. She presents Aoyama with a long, sharp wire that can cut through meat and bone. Asami wraps it around his ankle, sits on his foot, and carves away enjoying it as much as a young girl loves playing with dolls. This is a scene that's believed to have taken inspiration from famous scenes in Misery and In the Realm of the Senses. I can see the resemblance. There is a bit of a difference between sawing off someone's foot as opposed to *SPOILERS* hobbling someone in the ankles or slowly sawing a man's penis off *SPOILERS END.* This scene is actually very brief in the film if you take a time to it. It takes it so slow it feels longer than it really is. This is a great example that divides what type of horror you're watching. If you're screaming and jumping around because you're "scared" it's not very scary. If you're sitting still, silent, unable to look away even though what you're watching you know will give you nightmares for months, that's scary.
This film gives out quite the creep, and when the time comes it's not afraid to bring the gross stuff, too. The film's director, Takashi Miike is far from afraid of doing lots of gore. He's made a ton of films which I haven't seen a lot of. I will be touching on his very violent, very insane Dead or Alive one of these days. My favorite of his so far. You feel the punches as they hit. Once Asami cuts off Aoyama's foot you feel yourself looking for your own foot because it feels like you just had your foot cut off. This one will stay with you whether you like it or not.
The only other real complaint I have with this is I was trying to figure out what her motive is. She had no personal connection to Aoyama before the audition. She had a tortured childhood so I can see how she would wind up pretty messed up. The only motive I was able to find was either connected to that or the "men are pigs" motive that a lot of women use as an excuse to kill or hurt men in films whether it's justified or not. Maybe she really is just so messed up she enjoys the thrill of torture. It would answer a lot of questions. Not as interesting as some solutions but way scarier. One of the scariest thoughts is someone doing something so horrible for fun. Someone give this girl a yoyo to play with. Then she could use it for good and become a cop!