2000, NR, 115 min. Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001

Japanese director Takashi Miike's Audition will mess you up, and that's no lie. Maybe just for an hour or two, or maybe forever; once seen, however, it can not be unseen. It gnaws on your mind like a famished larva, and you can fully expect to have a rough time of it later, when you close your eyes and try to sleep. That's when the dreams will likely arrive, and why not? Audition, a horror film masquerading as a deeply disturbing meditation on the war between the sexes, is itself more dream-like than real. Like the best of David Lynch, you're never quite sure if what you're seeing is really happening, or if it's some awful hallucinatory episode, a skipping record lodged in the protagonist's warped and stuttering mind. Ishibashi plays Aoyama, a lonely Japanese film producer and widower who lives alone with his teenage son Tetsu (Sawaki). When his son tells him, over dinner one evening, that he's starting to look old and should remarry, Aoyama thinks over the advice and then takes it to heart. With the help of pal Yoshikawa (Kunimura), he stages a film audition, ostensibly to cast a new film, but really to find a new wife. He's immediately smitten by the willowy Asami (Shiina), whose résumé tells of a terrible injury that destroyed her ballet career -- "It was like having to accept death," she writes. The demure and submissive Asami and the lonesome Aoyama meet, fall in love, and retire to a country hotel, where Aoyama proposes to this mysterious, seemingly vulnerable woman-child. In quick succession she vanishes, reappears, and something terrible in a filthy sack gives a kick and a growl in a dark, dark room. That's as much as I dare tell you about Audition's artful plotting. Miike was a Cannes favorite with Audition and he's a major mover in the Japanese film industry, but he's virtually unknown stateside. Audition should help alleviate that sorry situation. Apart from the film's cunning, willfully surreal atmosphere, it's also beautiful to look at (up until the scene with the piano wire, of course), and full of striking images, deeply crimson hues that alternate with cool off-blues, often in the same scene. Ishibashi's role is unique, too. He's playing double duty as the empathetic Everyman figure, but on another level he's also a possessor, the dominant male just itching for some sort of comeuppance. Audition's take on the war between the sexes is bleak and almost entirely devoid of hope. Ultimately everyone, male and female, is tainted and doomed, beautiful and broken. It's enough to make you give up dating altogether.

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Audition, Takashi Miike, Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda

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