By John A. Riley
In The Pursuit of Happiness, the American philosopher Stanley Cavell outlines a blueprint for the comedy of remarriage. In Audition, genre-bending director Takashi Miike unveils his tragedy of remarriage, a radical inversion in which Aoyama, a middle-aged film producer is persuaded to remarry. His desire to find a wife is staged, with the help of another film industry professional, as an audition for a part in a nonexistent film. The film will never materialise but Aoyama’s new bride will. But where Cavell found fables of change and growth in his remarriage movies, Miike fashions his visceral tragedy from myopia, vanity, wealth and status, insecurity, and a long legacy of abuse.
But this is not quite a revenge or morality tale, it’s something darker, more disturbing and more ethically uncertain. It’s a pacy, choppy film, but it has to be because, in an audacious move worthy of Hitchcock at his most assured, all the horror is loaded into the film’s final act. None of the genres tropes or signifiers are visible for about the first forty minutes of the film. And even then it’s only a lightning-quick flash of terror; a sudden reminder that we are about to enter a realm where human beings are mere soft machines intent on eviscerating each other psychologically and physically. But not yet.
And then we return for a while, to normality. But the film has smoothly changed tack, hopped genres into the world of suspense thriller. Perhaps we are expecting a revelation, but maybe of a dark secret that makes sense, provides closure. Instead, there’s a final eruption of almost unbearable violence and febrile montage. Miike has been attacked for this violence (which would only accelerate with his 2001 film Ichi The Killer) but almost more disturbing is the stark and twisted psychology that motivates the carnage. Audition has been called misogynistic sadism, a film about the oppression of women in Japanese society, and a film about the failure of the male sexual imagination. These interpretations aren’t mutually exclusive.
The film’s most disturbing feature though, is the director’s control over the material. Other films that build to a gorefest, Antichrist for example, have the feel of a cathartic outpouring, a cinematic primal scream therapy session. Miike, rather than the outpouring of an analysand, has the exacting choreography of a bunraku puppeteer, masterminding every gesture and stage-managing each meticulously searing image.