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Audition (1999)

She is the woman of your dreams. She is a beautiful and demure woman, the flower of grace and beauty, but with a dark and tragic past. You listen sympathetically, commiserate with her pain (being a widower yourself) and when she asks you to love only her, you agree, because who wouldn’t want to love such a beautiful and delicate flower for the rest of your life?

She’s going to hold you to your word… no matter what.

Audition is a horror film by Takashi Miike, based on the Ryu Murakami novel of the same title. It stars Ryo “Suicide Club” Ishibashi, Tetsu “Border Line” Sawaki , and Eihi “Tokyo Gore Police” Shiina. It ranked at #11 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, which is probably the main reason most people in the West have heard of it. A number of Western horror directors found it too disturbing to watch, including Eli “Cabin Fever” Roth and Rob “House of 1000 Corpses” Zombie. But if you’re feeling brave, read on.

Seven years ago, Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife died of an illness. Now, as a middle-aged widow, he is unsure of his dating prospects, despite the encouragement of his son Shigehiko (Sawaki), who intends to move out when he finishes school and does not want his father to be alone. Aoyama’s friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, a film producer, proposes holding a mock audition, encouraging young, beautiful women to audition for the “role” of Aoyama’s wife, but actually being vetted as actual marriage material; the plan is for Aoyama to marry one of the finalists. During the auditions, Aoyama’s eye is drawn to one Asami Yamazaki (Shiina), age 24, a quiet, demure, soft-spoken former ballerina who was forced to stop dancing after an injury. Aoyama is enthralled, but Yoshikawa isn’t so sure: her job history is shaky and none of the references on her resume can be found. Aoyama is blinded by his own infatuation and calls her back, and we see her sitting in an apartment on the floor next to the only two things in the apartment besides her: the ringing telephone, and a lumpy burlap sack that lurches across the room as the phone rings. When she finally answers, Asami confesses that she didn’t expect him to call back. They begin dating, and he learns of her tragic past: she was physically and sexually abused by her stepfather, leaving scars that remain to this day, as she shows him. She asks him if he will love only her, and the infatuated Aoyama tells her he will, and they make love.

The next day she vanishes without a trace. Aoyama, using her resume, tries to track her down. He visits the ballet studio where she supposedly trained for 12 years, finding only a disabled old manin a wheel chair (who caused the scars on Asami’s legs). He visits the bar where Asami worked, only to find it had been closed for a year because the manager, the wife of a record producer, was found dismembered there. Amid the mess police found three extra fingers, an extra ear, and an extra tongue. Meanwhile, Asami is doing her own research, and she doesn’t like what she finds at all: an old photo of Aoyama’s dead wife prominently displayed on his desk. Aoyama is going to learn the dark side of an abusive childhood, and it isn’t going to involve rescuing her from her demons…

Not being familiar with Miike’s work when I first heard about this movie, I didn’t know what to expect when I rented Audition from Netflix, except for the infamous ending sequence. It starts off deceptively tame, as a very sweet and heartwarming romantic comedy, but even knowing how badly it would go didn’t prepare me for how gleefully psychotic Asami would turn. Fatal Attraction? Please. Alex Forrest is an amateur. Asami was giggling as she tortured Aoyama. Giggling. The Joker doesn’t even giggle like that. And if earlier scenes are any indication, she intended Aoyama to remain alive afterward, helpless and mutilated, totally dependent on her for everything. I bet none of you had exes quite that far around the bend. The violence is completely unflinching and unmerciful, involving muscle relaxant, acupuncture needles, and razor wire used in combinations that are likely to make you clench in sympathy.

I would call this a stealth horror movie. If you knew nothing about the movie going in, you would see nothing in the first two thirds to indicate what the last third would be like. I had never even heard of Takashi Miike before 100 Scariest, so afterwards I looked up some of his other stuff (which I haven’t seen yet). Apparently this guy has been compared to Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, as well as over the top violence and gorn. In other words, not an ideal date movie unless your SO is similarly minded and, you know, not secretly a psycho.

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