Plot: What’s it about?
After the death of his wife, businessman Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) feels like his life has ended at times and in truth, he feels as though he may never recover. Even seven years after she passed, Aoyama finds himself still alone and without any signs of getting back into the romance pool. But when his son and a close friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) urge him to seek out a new woman, he finally breaks down and agrees to give it another chance. As he is a movie producer himself, Yoshikawa comes up with a plan in which Aoyama pretends to be a producer, holding auditions for a female role within a picture. In truth however, the girls will be trying out for Aoyama and once he’s found an acceptable one, he can make a run at her. A line of young ladies passes in and out of the auditions, until a gorgeous young woman named Asami (Eihi Shiina) walks into the scene. The two instantly click and even when Aoyama reveals the true nature of the audition, Asami seems to not mind in the least. She seems like a dream come true and at times, even too good to be true, but is she really, or does she harbor some kind of dark secret?
To be honest, I never thought we’d see the films of Takashi Miike released on DVD here in the states, but I am very pleased to see some them arrive. I’d rank Audition as perhaps his best effort, so of course, I was jazzed to see an American label pick up the rights. I’ve owned this film on DVD from Regions 2 & 3 already, but I was more than willing to add this Region 1 disc, since it looked to have some cool supplements on deck. Audition plays like a romance picture for about an hour, then takes some odd turns toward a highly memorable conclusion. The premise is well executed and when the heat gets switched on, Miike’s direction kicks into overdrive and we’re shown some images that could be hard for some folks to shake off. I think we all expect odd cinema from Miike, but his closing touches here push even our expectations from him and if you ask me, that is one reason he is such a gifted filmmaker. He takes a cultural element and turns it on its ear, creating a memorable, powerful picture in the process. I recommend Audition to those interested in offbeat cinema, as the movie is superb and American Cinematheque has put together a more than solid disc, though the audio & video could have used some extra work.
As I mentioned above, director Takashi Miike is well known for making use of violence, blood, and disturbing themes in his pictures. But in Audition, the sadistic themes and visuals aren’t just thrown up on screen to shock, although that is part of it, to be sure. Miike takes aim on the typical view of the female population in Japan, a place where women are often seen as inferior, submissive, and subservient. He uses this to add to the tension and pull out some nice twists, especially for the audiences in Japan. But Miike’s vision doesn’t lose steam when viewed from other cultures, though Americans might have a different perspective on the film’s events. Even so, this kind of Cronenberg meets Hitchcock masterwork hits the mark in any culture, as we all get that same eerie, creepy feeling as the film rushes toward the close. Other films by Miike include Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, Dead or Alive, Fudoh: The Next Generation, and The City of Lost Souls.
Video: How does it look?
Audition is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. I first watched this disc on a Sony 61″ screen and I have to admit, I was more than a little let down with the picture. I knew the image would be soft and a little on the dull side, but I had high hopes, as the case listed this as an all new digital transfer. I later watched Audition on a 36″ WEGA and found that to be more acceptable, though the flaws were still present. I didn’t spin the disc in my Toshiba 65″ widescreen television however, as the subtitles wander into the widescreen bar, preventing any kind of zoom from taking place. In the end, the print looks clean from debris, but has a soft, sometimes worn appearance, the kind veteran Asian cinema fans should be used to, though I had hoped this would be restored in some fashion. The colors and contrast are effective, but aren’t as sharp and refined as I’d like. I do think this is a solid, acceptable visual presentation, but I guess I just wish it was more impressive, as the movie deserves better than this.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original Japanese soundtrack is preserved in a Dolby Digital 5.1 option, but don’t expect a dynamic, reference level experience here. I found the audio to be acceptable in all respects, but it never moves beyond that and in a movie like this, you want to have superior audio presence. The tension could have been enhanced in that way, but even as it is, Audition is an eerie movie, so I suppose we shouldn’t shout too much. In addition, the audio perks up in some sequences and since no real problems arise, I doubt anyone will be too let down. On the plus side, the dialogue is clean and well balanced throughout. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround track, as well as optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I was thrilled to see an audio commentary from director Takashi Miike listed on the case, but sadly, it covers only the final half hour or so of the picture. Even so, it is cool to hear his thoughts and he even reveals some unexpected tidbits, such as his original plans on where & how to end the movie, quite interesting indeed. You can hear more of Miike’s comments thanks to an interview also included here, which runs about twenty-five minutes in length. Miike sheds some light on how Audition’s production was handled and while sometimes slow, the interview is not to be missed by fans of Miike’s work. This disc also includes a talent file on Miike, a tour of the Egyptian Theater, a selection of still photos, and two of the film’s theatrical trailers.