Arrow Video celebrates Audition’s 20th anniversary of with a new restoration
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From the cult and genre fare of Arrow Video to the artful cinema of Arrow Academy, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
Audition seems to be one of those indoctrinating cinematic experiences that opened up so many, myself included, to Asian cinema, notably the horror genre. In such a fashion it was a gateway film, opening up the floodgates not just for other imports of its ilk, but also Western imitators. But don’t let such a tag dissuade you from its lingering ability to impress and unnerve, even 20 years after its original release, an anniversary celebrated by this latest release from Arrow films.
One of the most shocking J-horror films ever made, Audition exploded onto the festival circuit at the turn of the century to a chorus of awards and praise. The film would catapult Miike to the international scene and pave the way for such other genre delights as Ichii the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuris. Recent widower Shigeharu Aoyama is advised by his son to find a new wife, so he seeks the advice of a colleague having been out of the dating scene for many years. They take advantage of their position in a film company by staging an audition to find the perfect woman. Interviewing a series of women, Shigeharu becomes enchanted by Asami, a quiet, 24-year-old woman, who is immediately responsive to his charms. But soon things take a very dark and twisted turn as we find that Asami isn’t what she seems to be… Pulling the audience into a story that will lead to one of the most harrowing climaxes in cinema history, Miike twists and turns us through delirious editing and shocking visuals for one of the most depraved nightmares of all time!
Adapted from Ryu Murakami’s novel of the same name, Audition takes that road to terror by introducing something (or someone) seemingly innocuous, before peeling back the veneer to reveal the horrifying truth. Widower Shigeharu Aoyama is pushed to find a new partner by his own son, but rather than using conventional means, uses his position in the entertainment industry to create a fake role, sending out a casting call for eligible women who possess the characteristics he’s looking for in a partner. In walks Asami Yamazaki, a shy former ballet dancer, and Shigeharu is immediately besotted and begins his courtship of the beguiling young woman. It’s a premise that has all the trappings of of a romantic comedy, and for a time the film leans into that, delivering some charm and rather sweet moments, lulling you into a false sense of security before a descent into something far darker.
The warning signs drip through the film, before the torrent unleashed in the finale. The first major sign is a scene where we glimpse Asami waiting by a telephone after their first date. When it rings, a bag in the background starts to rock, accompanied by howls, while a disturbing smile creeps across her face. We begin to learn an unnerving truth about how Aoyama has picked the wrong girl, or rather, the ‘wronged’ girl. Asami is a victim of abuse, and is channeling it in ways to deliver retribution to men she deems deserving of justice. An investigative angle, along with jarring, trippy images and flashes of the past build her complex and tragic history, alluding as much to the past as the present psyche of this girl. It all builds to a climax where Aoyama becomes all too aware of Asami’s intent, in graphic sequence that becomes indelible in the mind. My first experience with the film came along with a first date, at her choosing mind. She spent the final act hidden under both our coats. which gives you some idea of what to expect.
Interpreting the film’s themes largely stem from how you view Aoyama himself. A man driven by loss and loneliness, using the means at his disposal to find woman who he then begins to court. On the other hand, this is a man who abuses his position of power, and exploits the dreams of unsuspecting, younger women to bait them into these auditions to eventually satisfy his own needs. Whichever way you look at it, the fate met out to him is shocking, and it’s impossible to justify this grisly brand of vigilantism, especially when wrapped up with Asami’s psychological damage. It weakens the empowering, feminist angle, as does keeping the point of view centered on Aoyama. But the castigation of misogyny is evident, issues of sexism and male entitlement being long recognized in Japanese culture. Men are in control, so what could be more horrifying than being rendered utterly helpless by a woman. Audition (1999) arrived just before the wave of torture porn exemplified by Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005). While certainly in the wheelhouse in terms of graphic imagery and sense of unease, it’s not as indulgent and has certainly aged far better than many of those that came in its wake, largely thanks to the deft hand of Takashi Miike. His composition and direction, handling of tones, along with superb performances from Eihi Shiina and Ryo Ishibashi build to a grisly, slow burn exercise in tension and horror that has lost none of its impact or influence even 20 years later.
The recent run of Arrow releases have impressed and Audition is no different. A crisp, detailed image, colors are natural with a pop in notable sequences. There are a few lighter scenes where the image is a little soft and the palette leans blueish, but overall the transfer is of great quality. Extras features are well represented too:
- Audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan: Illuminating and entertaining, the pair have a great rapport and nicely open up about their approach and making the film
- Brand new commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes examining the film and its source novel: A little drier than the other commentary, but more content driven
- Introduction by Miike: The director giving his own ‘audition’
- Ties that Bind — A brand new interview with Takashi Miike: Rather frank and very interesting interview, notably in terms of Miike discussing the presence of violence in his films and how it has influenced his popularity and audience perception of his work, about 30 minutes long
- Interviews with stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi: Around an hour of interviews with the central characters
- Damaged Romance: An appreciation by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns: An in-depth critique of the film, set against the wider context of Miike’s cinematic career. Plenty covered in just over 35 minutes
- Trailers: Japanese & International
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin:
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel: Lined with stills and new artwork, the booklet also contains notes on the restoration, and Bitel’s essay
The Bottom Line
It doesn’t take long upon rewatching Audition to remind you of why it has not only achieved cult status, but influenced so many horror films that followed. Despite this, Miike’s original vision has not been diluted, in fact its enduring potency is all the more apparent. Arrow Films deliver a superb release to celebrate 20 years of a horror landmark.
“kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri”
Audition from Arrow Video is available via MVD Entertainment 12th February