I saw Takashi Miike's film "Audition" at the 2000 Seattle Film Festival, and watched as half of the very sophisticated festival audience ran screaming out of the theatre while the other half, including me, giggled at the sight. Now, more than a year later, the film is getting a brief commercial run in New York, and I believe I can finally bring myself to write about it.
Simply put, "Audition" is one of the great horror films of all time. It is the story of a middle-aged widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), with a teenaged son. Aoyama is lonely and would like a wife - a young, traditional wife. In fact his son pushes him to look for one. Aoyama's friend is a television producer and suggests a little deception: that they audition young women who will think they are being considered for a role on TV. Mr. Aoyama will look them over, and perhaps find one to his taste.
Which he does: the beautiful, submissive, very traditional Asami (Eihi Shiina). They have a few dates, and then go to the country for a weekend at a hotel. But when Aoyama, absolutely smitten with her, wakes the next morning, she has disappeared. Where did she go? And what is she doing? While Aoyama looks for her we get a quick glimpse of what she is doing, in her apartment, and in that moment we learn more than we will ever want to know about her.
Soon, to our horror but not his, of course, he finds her and the film turns to an examination of exactly what happens to people who deceive others. I am prepared to say that it is the most excruciating, frightful sequence in film history. It is not simply a piling on of horrors but an exquisitely tuned ballet of actions and uncanny anticipations of what, in sequence, will come next. And although we learn a good deal about what has led Asami to her present actions, neither you nor I will ever be able to excuse them or forgive her. Miike has directed (from a story by Ryu Murakami, which I do not believe I will read) with a spacious, elegant sophistication. He builds his climactic sequence step by step, torturing us with the slow accretion of details until we simply cannot take any more and wish desperately to run away. And although many in the audience that night did exactly that, if you stay you will be well rewarded.