April 13, 2008 at 2:46 pm (Cinema, Kiran David)

Women in Japanese pornography are turned into images of humiliation, be it pictures of bondage, Bukakke, or in illustrated works like Hentai/Manga comics. Even in images like in the film Tokyo Decadence where women dominate men by using stuff like strap-ons, leather etc, it is often the men who direct and pay for the proceedings. One often wonders why Japanese men need to get their rocks off in this manner with such aggression. Is it something that validates them as true men because they feel they inherently lack something? Equally puzzling is how the women allow themselves to be subjected to this level of humiliation. Sometimes I wonder if this is some insane form of ritualized  theatre that is being performed in real life.


Takeshi Miike stands this image of women in bondage on its head in his superbly directed film Audition. A film that is getting raves the world over and also causing people to flee theaters in sheer horror.Intricately structured, it is no exploitation film something it easily could be mistaken for. It allows you multiple readings of its text and you can enter it from various points of view.


 Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami who also directed Tokyo Decadence, a film that deals with the humiliation an upper class prostitute faces from her clients, Audition is about a middle-aged widower who is a video producer Shigeharu Aoyama [Ryo Ishibashi] who lives with his son Shigehiko[Tetsu Sawaki], who feels the need to remarry seven years after his wife’s death. His friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa [Jun Kunimura] convinces him to fake an audition for a female role and hopefully find the woman of his dreams among the candidates.


Melancholic 24 year-old ex dancer Asami Yamazaki’s [played by popular Japanese supermodel Eihi Shiina ] letter included in the application interests him. I won’t continue with the story. Kiri Kiri Kiri………..


The film begins on a very austere and gentle note and takes its time to build up to its shattering conclusion. It deals with a middle-aged man’s fear and uncertainty in having a sexual relation with a woman almost half his age. The whole film at least for me takes on the shape of a nightmare from Shigeharu’s point of view – every thing that happens is something that resides in his imagination. Even the horrifying imagery that follows, more than the physical acts of violence, evokes a sense of something that curtails mobility, hence in some ways suggesting a kind of bondage. Unlike typical bondage, which has a man tying a woman up creating a state of immobility, we have a man imagining the woman immobilizing him. Some of the British critics seem to suggest that this is a kind of feminist film but I think they very obviously miss the point. Structurally there are many devices in the film suggesting we are entering a dream or imagined world. Conversations repeated at different points of the film, a conversation continuing in a second location as if it is the most natural thing in the word. The editing pattern also suggests a parallel universe that exists. A real world but not quite.


Many audiences are unfortunately mistaking the film for a slasher film because of the violence that is quite extreme. Decapitations, amputations puncturing with the use of torture instruments like piano wires and acupuncture needles. But the film just uses these images to convey its internal nightmare and not to excite thrill seekers. It is far too demanding for that kind of viewer and it always keeps you on your toes. It moves between very tender moments that make you feel like you a watching a gentle love story to moments of horror that is very unsettling. But the director even in the quiet moment is giving us hints of things to come.


The casting is superb. Ishibashi and  Sawaki  are flawless as is Kunimura and perform admirably. But the masterstroke is Shiina as the young woman not so much for her acting but for a physical ability to epitomize innocence. I think the film would have lacked a lot of its power without the image she evokes. Offset against this image the terror becomes much more real and therefore surreal.



I sincerely hope this film gets released in India though with the violence I doubt it. Otherwise I guess its video for us. Singapore, which had a terrible history of censorship has released Audition and other important films after certifying them suitable for restricted audiences.


– Kiran David


( This film review was first published in the September 2001 issue  Gentleman magazine)


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