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By Arpad Lukacs • May 27th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Vitagraph Films

Original release: October 6th 1999
Running time: 115 minutes

Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Daisuke Tengan

Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura

A beautiful young woman, slowly turning around, and holding a syringe in her hand. This image from director Takashi Miike’s horror film Audition is one of the most recognisable images Japanese cinema has ever produced. What follows is a slow and systematic scene of torture that’s as hard to watch as it is to forget. I think that’s precisely why I could hardly remember anything other than this scene after watching the film for the first time.

When asked, that was just about all I could say about Audition: that torture scene was really hard to watch! As I watched it again later, I was surprised how much more it had to offer.

Considering what it will progress towards, it begins in a very unassuming fashion. Middle-aged widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) lives with his teenage son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) since the death of his wife several years ago. AuditionAoyama is a good father and they make a great team together, but when his son begins to take an interest in girls, he tells his father he should re-marry.

Aoyama later tells his film producer colleague (Jun Kunimura) he’s considering trying to find a new wife and he comes up with an idea: hold an audition for a film that may or may not be made, and use the process to find the perfect woman.

Miike has much to say about a modern Japan and nothing is black & white in Audition. The film deals with age, gender and various modern age anxieties and has no easy answers on offer.

The one thing that seems to be a recurring element of optimism is the filmmaker’s apparent hope for the younger generation. When Aoyama and his colleague – two middle-aged men – come up with the ‘audition idea’, their conversation reveals a severed connection between the two genders. AuditionMiike adds visuals to this hopeless mood; a group of women sit together with drinks further away while the two men speak of them as if they were a different species altogether. Then Aoyama’s friend concludes his train of thought: “Japan is finished”.

Aoyama’s 17 year old son is portrayed in high contrast to his somewhat disillusioned father and his cynical friend. He shows not only interest, but superior understanding of gender and the opposite sex from the start. At the dinner table, he explains to his father that the fish they are eating – a black sea bream – begins life as male and can later change to female.

Aoyama is puzzled and cannot tell whether the fish on the table is male or female, to which his son replies: “We saw its ovaries, didn’t we?”
The young man also has a keen interest in palaeontology and Miike couples dinosaurs with Shigehiko’s perspective on the older generation. In one conversation on the subject of women, the father tells his son: “I’m more experienced than you are.” At the precise moment he delivers this line of dialogue, he picks up one of his son’s dinosaur models as Takashi Miike tells us: the older generation is soon to be extinct, and with that a fresh approach to relationships is needed.


The audition process itself expresses an old-fashioned and highly misogynistic tradition. It’s the showcasing of women ‘applying for the role of wife’ to a man who has the upper hand and doesn’t have to prove he is worthy of anybody’s attention. Yet Miike doesn’t make it that simple.

His portrayal of Aoyama is that of a good person nevertheless. Apart from raising his son with much dignity, Aoyama craves for love, not mere companionship in spite of going along with the audition. He misses his long-deceased wife and when he finally looks towards a new relationship, he still feels a sense of betrayal and cannot bear to look at her picture.

However, Aoyama finds the resume of Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). In it, she writes about having to give up ballet and how this affected her life. Asami describing herself as having to deal with great loss immediately enchants Aoyama as it reminds him of his own experience of losing his wife. He feels a connection, and even before the audition begins, he’s made up his mind.

As it turns out, Asami is not at all what she seems to be, and will go on to punish Aoyama in that infamous scene of sadistic torture. AuditionThe great irony in the film is that Asami is driven by her own prejudice and hatred of men. Her past is revealed somewhat ambiguously, but it’s nevertheless very clear that she was abused as a child in horrific ways.

What she’s become is a direct result of these experiences but the volume of her anger is so great she no longer cares about whom she is punishing. She shares her idea about love during the torture scene with Aoyama: it’s a deranged and abstract concept in its extreme exclusiveness – there’s no room for anyone but Asami. Aoyama, of course, fails to live up to these unachievable ideals and his punishment is severe.

It’s Aoyama’s son who unexpectedly interrupts and tries to save what’s left of his father.

In the film’s climax, Miike brings back the younger generation to save the day. The young Shigehiko is confronted by a scene of misdirected anger and deep-seated prejudice derivative of a time that’s very different from his own. When he shows up at the end, it’s clear he’s the only character in Audition whose mind hasn’t been damaged by social rules and expectations.

This glimmer of hope is all Takashi Miike can give us. Shigehiko is pure and innocent as his mind has not been corrupted by social norms – yet. The future of Japan is left in his hands.

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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