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Trying out a role

Without my TiVo, I’d never have gotten around to seeing Audition, which would have been a pity. I think. As is, I spent half the weekend severely creeped out. For a movie without any supernatural trappings, it was about the most horrific thing I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project. (Pre-hype.)

Confessional: I normally find Japanese movies a bit slow. I know it’s part of the cinematic culture in Japan and all; I just don’t have the mental pathways I’d need to appreciate the style properly. I’d been hearing about this Takashi Miike guy for a while, though; he cranks out five or six movies a year, he’s supposed to be totally transgressive and daring, and people either love him or hate him. So I snagged Audition from the Sundance Channel, cause what could it hurt?

I expected it to be a pretty sloppy gore-fest. I figured Miike was infamous for the boundaries he crossed, rather than the skill with which he crossed them. I also expected yet another Japanese movie with moments of action mixed with long slow interludes of mood development. An hour into Audition, as I was appreciating the patient build and the elegant cinematography and the sharp interjections of tension — ah, that canvas bag — I’d learned different.

The movie starts out as a romantic tragedy. Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife dies, and seven years later, he’s still dealing with his grief. There’s not a hint of anything beyond a quiet little drama which could easily open up into a story about a man who finds love again; it’s incredibly restrained. Sure, it’s kind of creepy to stage a movie audition in order to find a new wife… but you feel for Aoyama, and maybe it’ll work out. And that’s the first hour of the movie. Could be any TV drama of the week, except skillfully filmed.

Then, without a bump in the transition, the movie takes a left turn into a deranged mix of David Lynch and Tobe Hooper. There’s no gore for gore’s sake, but the camera doesn’t turn away from the horror for a single second. The layered flashbacks and dream sequences are a much-needed counterpoint to the terrible things which happen in the present, but even in that escape you can see the seeds of the tragedy to come.

I can’t emphasize enough how nasty things get. Think Meet The Feebles, except much better technically, real actors, and more blood. I also can’t say enough good things about Miike’s evocation of Japanese relationships. It’s a hard contrast to wrap my mind around, because despite the occasional flashes of brilliance from Wes Craven, you don’t normally get real social commentary from a movie as bloody as Audition.

Fascinating movie, but watch it at your own risk.

4 Comments

  1. I’m totally with you in regards to [i]Audition[/i], and I’d be curious to see your reaction to some of Miike’s other works. Because, for as bizarre as [i]Audition[/i] sometimes is, it’s probably his least trangressive film (also, his most patient, and probably most mature).

  2. Interesting. I have City of Lost Souls and The Happiness of the Katakuris on my TiVo right now, waiting for me to open ’em up — I’ll post when I’ve done so.

  3. Ironically, I’ve seen neither of those (although Happiness is on my Christmas list), so I’ll be real interested in your take on them. Did you snag those off of the Sundance Channel too, ’cause if so, I need to start paying better attention to my TV listings.

    I have seen Visitor Q, Fudoh, and the infamous Ichi. All three are the sorts of films you don’t casually recommend to people, for fear they might suddenly stop talking to you. Whatever your opinion, with these flicks Miike puts to rest the notion that Japanese films are necessarily “slow”.

  4. Yep, both of ’em came right off of Sundance. They showed, um, the last Dead or Alive movie (I think) as well but I was too late to catch it. I was pretty surprised to see that kind of thing getting airtime, even on cable, but there it is.

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