A widower begins to surreptitiously audition attractive young women for a new role: potential spouse. But who is interviewing whom? Director Takashi Miike turns the horror convention upside down by delivering a deliberately paced psychological drama that walks the razor wire’s edge.
Shigeharu is a successful businessman and a lonely single dad who loves his teenage son; both are well-adjusted and bright individuals. Miike begins his masterpiece of sadistic horror by developing our protagonist as an empathetic and complex person; he refuses to allow clichéd melodrama to intrude upon the narrative. Though Shigeharu’s methods are morally questionable, his intentions are quite sincere. His mistake is in wanting to be a savior instead of seeking an equal partner, falling victim to his own male egocentrism which becomes a violent condemnation of Patriarchal mores. He is intrigued by one specific applicant because of her honesty about her traumatic past, her triumph over adversity, and he focuses his attention upon the beautiful and seemingly delicate Asami. But he is being manipulated from the very first word, being reeled in like a prize-catch by a tormented young lady who is victim…and victimizer.
Miike holds our suspense hostage in a burlap sack while revealing subtle clues that question our heroine’s virtue. He utilizes flashbacks and flash-forwards to startling effect, not as a slick gimmick but to engulf us in existential dread, to feel the dark chill of the abyss nipping at our nose…and under our eyes…and tongue…fingers, ears, and feet. Asami plays her role perfectly as Shigeharu becomes the final act and the bloody stage her world. Yet, through the sadism, this cruel confusion of love and pain, we sense her victimization and can connect on some primal level to her suffering, a deep spiritual malaise that has habilitated her into a gruesome torturer. This should not alleviate Asami’s guilt but Miike isn’t concerned with questioning her motives; he wants us to experience her pain vicariously through Shigeharu, to confuse our emotional loyalties and discard easy personal judgments.
AUDITION is about power and control, the absolute authority that one human being can wield over another. Asami’s final breath exhales the delicate and fermenting vapor of the tomb, a genial acquittal, an unburdening of all responsibility, and we wonder if Shigeharu can ever bring himself to hate her.
FINAL GRADE: (A)