Audition Blu-ray Review
Written by Joel Harley
Blu-ray released by Arrow Video
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Ryu Murakami (novel), Daisuke Tengan (screenplay)
1999, 115 minutes, Rated 18
Blu-ray released on 29th February 2016
Ryo Ishibashi as Shigeharu Aoyama
Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki
Tetsu Sawaki as Shigehiko Aoyama
Jun Kunimura as Yasuhisa Yoshikawa
Renji Ishibashi as Old man in wheelchair
Miyuki Matsuda as Ryoko Aoyama
Years after the death of his beloved wife, a lonely widower and single parent decides to dip his toe once more into the murky waters of adult dating. Nervous and out of touch, he allows himself to be convinced by a friend’s ploy, faking auditions for a non-existent film production as a way to meet and screen prospective girlfriends. Sounds like the grounds for a traditional (if somewhat tragic) romcom, probably starring Vince Vaughn or Luke Wilson - complete with the bit at the end where the deception is uncovered and the relationship is left in tatters until an inevitable dash to the church/airport at the end.
Except in the case of Takashi Miike’s infamous Audition, there’s no church or airport, and no recovering these tatters, with Aoyama paying for his sins in a most brutal fashion, turned into a human pincushion while the terrifying Asami goes to work. Spoiler, by the way. Although, if you know anything about world horror, you’ll already have the gist of Audition, it being one of Japanese cinema’s most iconic bits of horror outside of The Ring or The Grudge. That infamy is a funny thing – while it will get more people to see it, very few will get to ‘discover’ it in the most pure sense (accidental TV viewings and chance screenings by cruel friends aside). And that’s a shame, as I can only imagine what it might be like to go into Audition blind, completely ignorant of its show-stopping twist.
Still, unlike your average M. Night Shyamalan picture or similar twist-centric horror film, this one retains much of its effectiveness no matter how many times you see it. Going into the film aware of Aoyama’s ultimate fate and Asami’s monstrous depths only serves to heighten the sense of dread. Like Sergeant Howie being dragged kicking and screaming to his Wicker Man, or the stupid kids into Eli Roth’s Hostel, you can’t help but hope that this time it’ll turn out differently; that Aoyama will sign up to Match.com instead, Howie will jump on the next boat home or the kids will grow up and visit some museums. We can never experience that twist first hand again, but Audition’s horrifying inevitability lives on every time. Deeper, deeper.
Forty-five minutes, almost without any sign of its horror inclinations. That’s a sense of patience you won’t find in many horror films. Nor, indeed, modern dating. In this day and age of Plenty of Fish and Tinder, Audition would have been over in about five minutes. It’s likely to end in roughly the same manner too. In our impatient Internet time, Audition has never felt more prescient – I sold a TV on Gumtree and couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d accidentally invited someone around to murder me on my floor with needles. It’s a cliché to say that it does for dating what Jaws did for the ocean, but I do have a line on my profile specifically asking would-be dates not to chop off my feet (I’ll be honest, I think it makes me sound like the deranged one).
Audition’s sack of tricks may have become famous in the years since its release, but the film has lost none of its power to shock and repulse. Its torture sequences are as hard to watch as they ever were, even if more of it is implied than you might remember. The Grudge and The Ring have the majority on Japanese women with long black hair crawling out of the TV to come get you, but it’s Asami who will really get under your skin.
Video and Audio:
The film is presented in a brand new 2k restoration, but retains its low-fi VHS look. That works in its favour though, the sense of realism making both elements of the story feel natural, humanistic and properly affecting. Aside from the pop punk brilliance which plays over the end credits (and Blu-ray menus), silence in is the name of the game. Each and every squishy pin prick is heard in Original Dolby 5.0 Surround Audio, and they’ll stick with you (if not in you) for a while afterwards.
Audition is disappointingly light on special features, for an Arrow release. Its interviews are the main attraction, eliciting a brand new audio commentary from Takashi Miike himself (accompanied by screenwriter Daisuke Tengan), as well as a fascinating and lengthy interview and charming video introduction to the film. Stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina and Renji Ishibashi are also interviewed, in addition to a commentary from biographer Tom Mes. The latter is particularly insightful in examining the source novel, currently unavailable in English. Talking of which, cinema historian Tony Rayns discusses the book and film in his documentary Damaged Romance (too dry for my tastes), at one point describing the novel as ‘needling’ - a pun made all the funnier by Rayns’s apparent obliviousness to it. Heh, needling. A decent set of special features then, but this one could have gone deeper.