Unlike most of the director's other films, in which he employs huge casts, Audition presents the viewer with only a few characters. Fortunately, the movie's narrow focus is particularly effective. By remaining concentrated on his protagonists, Miike is able to involve the viewer with them and, consequently, arouse in him potent feelings of compassion, which, eventually, contribute to the almost unbearable sense of horror the director ultimately evokes.
The first part of the film is melancholy and hopeful. While the audition by means of which Shigeharu meets Asami is a less than admirable means of doing so, the man's affection for her appears to be genuine. As a character, Shigeharu is sympathetic and likeable, and the director's depiction of his developing romance does arouse feelings of gentle love. Despite the predominance of such sentiments in the first part of the movie, there are, however, several hints that there is something dark and sinister about Asami. These hints prevent the viewer from relaxing and maintain tension and uneasiness throughout. In the second half of the film, as such frightful elements are brought increasingly to the fore, the feelings of commiseration aroused in the first part help to strengthen the viewer's ever deepening sense of horror. The movie's ghastly denouement is memorable and disturbing not only as a result of the cruelty and brutality depicted, but also because the story has been told in such a way that the viewer has been able to engage with its characters.
Audition's effectiveness at eliciting such feelings is further enhanced by a number of meditative threads which run through the narrative. The movie, for example, explores issues of exploitation and looks at the consequences abuse can have on those who suffer from such treatment. Asami's actions are savage and sadistic, yet her painful past, consequent unhappiness, and apparent associations of cruelty, violence, and affection make her not into a fiend, but into a tragic and sympathetic person. Shigeharu's exploitation of her, with his manipulative audition, is shown as perhaps appealing to Asami. Shigeharu, however, is not depicted as a monster because of this exploitative behavior. If anything, it makes him more ordinary, more human. Such elements give the film a depth it would not otherwise have had and so contribute to the horror evoked.
The movie's visual qualities also assist in producing its emotive effect. While Audition is not visually distinctive, its very ordinariness is helpful in creating a sense of the incongruity between Shigeharu's daily life and the nightmare in which he finds himself.
What is more, the acting in the film is universally good. Eihi Shiina, in particular, gives a marvelous and nuanced performance that, in the end, is likely to genuinely horrify the viewer.
While by no means Miike's best work, Audition is a fascinating and effective film.
Review by Keith Allen
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