Horror films can be many different things. There are psychological thrillers, there are the slasher pictures, and don’t forget the much more recent and far less interesting torture porn and found footage films. However, when it comes to the Takashi Miike picture Audition, it’s an entirely different entity, truly unlike anything the genre has to offer.
One of Miike’s most beloved films and one of the many that would launch him into becoming one of cinema’s greatest and most influential shockers, Audition follows the story of a widowed TV producer who is set up with a series of casting couches, audition possible wives. When he runs into the beautiful and mysterious Asami Yamazaki (played by Eihi Shiina), he is instantly smitten. However, all doesn’t appear to be what it seems, and from a romantic comedy comes one of the most brutal, frightening and truly upsetting horror pictures of its era. It’s also one of the most singular horror films ever put to screen.
Most people are inherently drawn to the film’s final act, the complete tonal, stylistic and entire genre shift. However, the lead up is nothing to scoff at. Driven by the pair of central performances, via Shiina and Ryo Ishibashi, the film is a fantastic romantic comedy. Shiina is the right parts innocent and beautiful to make the romance feel real while also making the final act’s turn impossibly visceral. Ishibashi is the perfect romantic lead, a widower who is looking to get back in the game via a series of casting couches set up by a friend. There are really funny moments, sequences and lines here, turning Audition into what for all intents and purposes appears to be a brisk and easily watchable laugher.
Oh but does it change come the film’s final act.
With nothing more than a phone call, Audition shifts from comedic romance picture into a deeply troubling thriller, with about as deft a hand as Miike has ever shown. It’s a macabre proto-slasher that plays heavily on the stakes and emotional connection that the audience has made to its lead, only to subvert that and turn it into true terror for what is about to come. The film features breathtaking gritty cinematography that helps offer up the vicious torture that in the most blunt and horrifying way. It also is far smarter than one would imagine. Playing on both genre trappings as well as things like gender and, of course, the idea of revenge, Audition doesn’t thrive on brains, instead opting for a meditation on genre, but for those looking for something more than just eye covering frights, the film offers that up in spades.
Overall, Audition is not only one of the greatest modern horror films, but it’s also Takashi Miike’s true-blue masterpiece. One of the director’s most haunting and affecting pieces of work, it’s also a brisk meditation on genre and revenge. It’s a wickedly weaved Grimm Brothers fairy tale that subverts just about everything one would expect from a film of its nature. And is it a bloody brilliant subversion.