Controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike creates this unnerving horror film about a widowed TV producer auditioning prospective wives. In his search, one candidate particularly stands out, a lovely ex-ballerina dressed in white. The widower cannot believe his good fortune, until he starts looking more closely at his potential bride-to-be: her autobiographical details don’t quite check out, she has a number of ugly scars on her legs, and he learns that people in her life have a habit of disappearing. When he discovers a man trussed up in her living room with his tongue and feet lopped off, he concludes that she is perhaps not the woman of his dreams. Audition was screened at the 1999 Vancouver Film Festival. — Jonathan Crow
Takashi Miike’s Audition begins as a rather light romantic drama about a middle-aged widower, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), a television producer, who decides to find a new wife by auditioning actresses for a film. Once Aoyama settles on Asami (model Eihi Shiina), the quietest, most demure-seeming woman, Miike slowly begins to reveal hints of the horror that is to come. Asami sits by the phone, presumably for days on end, in an apartment that’s bare except for a large canvas bag. When Aoyama finally gives in to his desire, the phone rings, a cold smile slowly comes to Asami’s lips, and, suddenly, the bag violently spasms, rocking across the floor. It’s a masterful shot sequence that completely changes the tone and direction of the film. Miike’s film works on the level of a pure horror film, but it also rewards viewers who are interested in its thematic concerns and filmmaking technique. The horrific final half-hour of the film is so effective because Miike has allowed the audience to spend time with Aoyama and understand the questionable behavior that leads him to his own personal hell, and because, as in David Lynch’s films, that hell is rendered in such a head-spinning, dreamlike way. If it were presented any more realistically, it would be unbearable to watch, and it would lose its effectiveness as metaphor. The film critiques the power imbalance that allows men to “audition” beautiful young women, looking for some fantasy combination of strength and servitude. Because Aoyama is, in the end, a sympathetic character, the sadistic revenge that Asami exacts can’t be excused, but Aoyama’s own creepy complicity must be acknowledged. The film is not for everyone, but for those who can stomach its gory denouement, it’s a disturbing cinematic experience that they won’t soon forget.