Japanese auteur Takashi Miike has probably one of the strangest career trajectories in film. He’s made incest-laden allegories like “Visitor Q” and off-the-wall comedies like “Zebraman.” The only thing gluing them together are the characters at their centers. Each one is searching for something. In “Visitor Q” a dysfunctional family wants peace, in “Zebraman” a schoolteacher wants purpose, and in “Audition” a widower wants love.
Long after his wife’s death, the middle-aged Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi, “Gyakuten Saiban”) is urged by his son to find a new wife. Without the gall to hit the bars, Shigeharu’s friend convinces him to hold an audition for a new wife. A day into the auditions, Shigeharu is enchanted by Asami (Eihi Shiina, “Helldriver”), whom he calls four days later, and the two hit it off. Maybe.
It’s hard to talk about “Audition” without spoiling the oft-spoiled climax. This reviewer will try to keep it under wraps, if possible. Even after 14 years, the movie is an innovative take on the romance. And yes, in many ways it is a love story, a romance for the jaded. At the center, Shigeharu grieves and wants respite. Asami offers such respite, but already has another special somebody in the bag.
Propelled by a perverse feminism, Asami has the power at every turn, and Shigeharu is the dumb sap who played her game. The movie digs deep into the psychology of men and women alike. Both torture each other in their own ways, but some are more up front about it than others. When either’s psychosis breaches their facade, the results are stomach-turning. The finale wouldn’t be so horrifying if it weren’t for everything leading up to it.
Thanks to expertly played dramatic irony, the viewer knows far more than the hapless protagonist, even before things go awry. The jump scares here are not cheap, they’re earned and incredibly crafted. Props to director Miike for trusting his viewers enough to take the violence thrown at them.
And if the viewer can take it, “Audition” is worth staying up for. Miike’s later work, like “13 Assassins,” is miles removed from his original masterpiece — and for good reason. Here, the director mined deep and discovered a depravity of a whole other sort. He was no stranger to depravity before this movie, but “Audition” cemented his name in Japanese horror.