Film Reviews:

Audition / Ôdishion

(Miike Takashi, Japan, 1999)

"Everyone in Japan is lonely" says someone at the beginning of Takashi's intense film. Middle-aged businessman Ayoama (Ryo Ishibashi) is lonely. His wife having died several years before, Ayoama's young son urges him to marry again. Turning to his friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) for advice, they hatch a plan whereby Ayoama can use an audition for one of the film projects Yoshikawa's production company is putting together as a way of meeting women. It's here that Ayoama meets the incredibly delicate and shy 25 year old Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), a former ballerina whose mature and thoughtful view of life mirrors Ayoama's. Ignoring the warnings of an unsure Yoshikawa, Ayoama quickly enters into a close friendship with the enigmatic girl. However, acting on his hunch, Yoshikawa checks Asami's references - all of which come up blank in one regard or another. A former contact at a casting company has been missing for over a year, the ballet school she attended is no longer running, the bar where she supposedly works has been closed for many months after the owner's body was found in pieces on the bar floor. Although reluctantly promising Yoshikawa that he will not call her again, Aoyama cannot help himself and resumes the friendship. They become close and on a weekend away together, Aoyama proposes to the bewitching Asami and she accepts. It's only then that Ayoama realises he has made a terrible error.

What is, for the most part, a gripping thriller suddenly flips in the final twenty minutes into a brutal horror film climaxing in a distressingly unpleasant torture scene. The acting is excellent, especially, crucially, from the two leads; Ryo Ishibashi as the believably sympathetic Ayoama and an incredibly schizophrenic performance from the captivating Eihi Shiina. Even after seeing her truly disturbing dark side, when she reappears to Ayoama in her butter-wouldn't-melt persona you are immediately drawn to her again. Director Miike Takashi may or may not have intended to say something important about the difficulty of conducting romantic relationships in contemporary Japan, but he certainly has fun with Asami's dialogue regarding what she (and it seems Takashi) believes to be the general unfaithfulness of men in relationships and the lies they rely upon to sustain them. It's when dealing with these subjects that the film has its best moments. The interaction between the two leads is all too real and when tackling the emotions Takashi is at his finest.

It's really only during the voyeuristic finale that things fall apart. Ayoama's delirium dreams are effective enough, but Takashi's apparent uncertainty as to just how to play the overtly horrific (yet simultaneously hilarious) denouement comes through the terror and upsets the superbly creepy balance that has been so delicately woven up to that point. Unless you find graphic horror scary, by far the most genuinely terrifying moment in the entire film is a deranged Asami slowly breaking into a intensely unnerving smile as her ringing telephone signals Ayoama's submission to her charms. In parts, absolutely fantastic, but ultimately somewhat disappointing.

Rob Dyer

For an (earlier) English version on the same theme see Boy Meets Girl

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