Miike's jolt from the blue

Review: Awash in graphic images, `Audition' repulses and fascinates as it challenges the perception of women's role in Japan.

January 04, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

It's only the first week of the year, but here's betting there won't be a more disturbing film in movie houses this year than Audition, an unsettling rumination on guilt, deception, revenge and perversion - with a little bit of cinematic misdirection thrown in.

Japanese director Takashi Miike, working off a screenplay by Daisuke Tengan, spends the first half of his film lulling audiences into one of filmdom's falsest senses of security, then spends the second half throwing jolt after jolt at them, with sadistic images that both repulse and fascinate (perhaps because we're never sure how far they'll go), while taking the puzzle pieces of plot he's laid before us and ceaselessly rearranging them.

Taking the advice of his teen-age son, widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) decides to end seven years of mourning by taking a new wife. Without a clue of how to find one, however, he goes to a friend for help.

The idea these two casual chauvinists come up with is to hold an audition for a film they never plan on making; that way, a host of young actresses and would-be actresses will show up, and Aoyama can hit on the one that meets his exacting specifications: attractive, obedient, traditional and skilled in the arts.

His eye is caught by a pretty, quiet, demure sort who admits she's never acted before, but has studied ballet. The woman, Asami, seems flattered by his advances, and a relationship seems about to blossom. But there's an air of mystery about her that neither Aoyama or we can quite put our fingers on.

Discretion prevents revealing what happens in the rest of the film, showing at the Charles Theatre; suffice it to say Asami is not the shrinking violet she seems, and Aoyama pays severely for his deceitfulness.

Or does he? Is all this real? Is Aoyama having a nightmare? Is he feeling guilty for dishonoring the memory of his wife? Is he feeling guilty for regarding women as a commodity, thinking he can choose a mate in much the same way one chooses a car?

Be forewarned: The images here are graphic and disturbing. But Miike somehow manages to stop just short of disgusting, and his constant shifts of time, place and even character focus attention of the movie's storyline, preventing those images from lingering to the point of overpowering the film.

It's also no accident this movie comes from Japan, directly challenging the subservient role traditionally assigned women in many Asian cultures. Audition is clearly a film meant to rattle all sorts of cages.

Audition

Starring Ryu Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina

Directed by Takashi Miike

Released by Vitagraph Films

Unrated (Extreme violence and sexuality)

Running time 115 minutes (In Japanese, with English subtitles)

Sun score ***1/2

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