Written by: John White on January 26th, 2006
Original Video Release Date: Japan, 1999
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi, Ren Osugi
DVD released: August 23rd, 2005
Approximate running time: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo/ DD 5.1
DVD Release: Lion’s Gate
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.98
(This review contains spoilers)
Synopsis: Koyama is a widower who works as a producer and lives with his young son. It has been seven years since his wife died and his world fell apart and his son advises him that he needs to remarry. Drinking one night with his friend they talk about his desire to remarry and he asks where all the good women are hiding and outlines the qualities he wants in a new bride. His friend suggests they set up an audition which is on the pretense of a role in a film but really is a chance for Koyama to get to know some likely brides. When looking through the CVs he notices Azami’s whose grief for her ballet training reminds him of his own loss. Sure enough the Audition happens and he arranges to see Azami after the Audition for a date and he sees the intelligent soulful woman he is looking for but ignores her words about her damaged childhood and the instincts of his friends. After a second date she gives herself to him on condition that he loves her “only”, this he promises and lives to regret it.
In his book, Something Like An Autobiography, Akira Kurosawa states that there are two important skills for a film director – knowing how a film should be edited and what a good screenplay looks like. In Audition, Miike shows excellence in these two areas because the film is a marvel of tempo and is a pretty straight adaptation of the original novel from Ryu Murakami.
The film has two gears. The first hour is very leisurely as Miike builds up a picture of Koyama as a good man who tries to do something about his loneliness. In this hour Miike risks boring less committed viewers and makes the film seem like an arthouse piece about loss and bereavement with beautiful yearning music and long scenes that force the viewer to relax into the film. After the hour, the camera starts to shake, the editing becomes quicker and scenes are punctuated by dreams and illusions. The film becomes a set of nightmares and the usual getouts for the audience are systematically debunked as Koyama wakes up from a dream only to find himself in a real nightmare and starts to remember the important clues he overlooked.
This change of pace is prepared for so subtly in terms of composition and background suggestion that the meticulous nature of this production is obvious. Take the scene where Azami gives herself, the set is dressed in white with blue lighting but the camera frames this potentially romantic scene through the snakelike ironwork to undermine this image. The final 15 minutes are some of the most gruelling in cinema but they are excellently played and Miike even reminds us of the distance between ourselves and the violence by having an amputated foot hit a window which we are watching from outside of. We are also forced to take Koyama’s perspective when the pins are placed in and around his and our eyes.
Audition is not a feminist revenge saga as Azami is clearly not in her right mind and her view of fidelity is one based on the beloved being unable to walk away or even speak. What Audition is though is a tale of what pain looking for love can bring the seeker. Whether this is the eternal disappointment that Azami faces as lovers have other things in their lives, or the pain that Koyama’s lack of cautiousness brings him it is immaterial. The important point is that the wrong choice, whether that is ringing Azami for the second time, not following up on his secretary’s interest in him, or proposing to a madwoman, can cause you irreparable damage and to lose everything you have now. Is loneliness not a better option?
Audition is simply the greatest film made in the last ten years.
The Lion’s Gate release is an improvement on the previous release from Chimera as the film is in it’s correct proportion unlike that release. The picture is generally better than the Chimera release but it is rather soft at times. The transfer is excellent and better than previous releases. The audio includes 5.1 and stereo options and the 5.1 track does sound very good but the bass effects are a little underplayed. For example the scene with the foot thrown at the window should have more impact than it did here. The existing Tartan release does boast a DTS track in addition to these options.
In terms of extras, this is he best release of the film yet. You get the interview with Miike from the Chimera release but you also get a commentary on the last reel of the movie from Miike as well as an introduction from him – “if it upsets you, watch it tomorrow”! There is also an interview with Ryu Murakami where he confirms how faithful Miike was to the text. Several trailers are included for other Lion’s Gate films.
This is probably the best release of this movie available but it can be improved upon especially in terms of sharpness and better subtitles. Until then this is the way to own this masterpiece.