Stream to Scream: Takashi Miike’s “AUDITION”
As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s available, FANGORIA is taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with Stream to Scream. Today: Takashi Miike’s legendary AUDITION.
When it comes to international masters of the macabre, there are few directors as visceral, shocking and focused in their output as Takashi Miike. A versatile and prolific filmmaker, Miike’s stylized visuals and reckless abandon towards the audience’s threshold for nastiness is legendary amongst the horror community. Of course, none of his films may be as infamous as his critically lauded and culturally significant 1999 entry AUDITION, an adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel and a film that many feel is the precursor to the torture porn subgenre. Having never seen the film previously, this writer was lucky enough to find it streaming on our Hulu page and I braced myself for Miike madness of the highest sort.
Certainly, the film has earned its reputation for disturbing content, which appears in many different lights from start to finish. Perhaps I wasn’t expecting just how complex and engaging the film’s mystery is, which had been understated in most previous recommendations. Miike’s tone for the offbeat is apparent from AUDITION’s opening frames, never truly settling into a hypnotic groove until the audience is introduced to femme fatale Ashami (Eihi Shiina). The mystery grows stranger, more intense and more surreal, especially as the film’s color palette becomes embroiled in darkness.
In a way, some of the voyeuristic elements of Miike’s other shock output is nowhere to be seen in AUDITION. Instead, an atmosphere of seductive passion invites the viewer into its gruesome, demented consciousness. Miike and cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto paint the film with almost noir-esque respect for shadow, while the coloring of the film’s frame is much further influenced by classic international productions and giallo. Koji Endo’s score adds to the unnerving nature of the project, never stepping over the toes of the demented visuals of the film and often accentuating the creepy direction of the narrative. And credit should also be given to Yuichi Matsui, the special effects make-up artist who made the film’s most terrifying moments, including the notoriously brutal torture sequence, possible.
Of course, Miike’s work as a visual horror craftsman is matched by his ability to get affecting and genuinely frightening performances out of his cast. Eihi Shiina’s work in the film is nothing short of magnetic, exemplified when her character’s true sadistic nature bursts into the film with unshakeable psychological resonance. Co-star Ryo Ishibashi stunningly embodies crippling desperation, so much so that the viewer is likely to pity the poor character even before he’s ensnared by Ashami. And in a small but unforgettable role of pure creepiness, Renji Ishibashi steals scenes as the wheel-chair bound catalyst for Ashami’s mental instability.
AUDITION is likely not for casual horror fans of weaker constitution, even disregarding the graphic violence found in its third act. The subject matter regarding Ashami’s childhood is unsettling in its own right, and in true Miike fashion, is approached with unblinking narrative resolve. Likewise, those unfamiliar with Miike’s other work may find it more difficult to adapt to the director’s cinematic language, one that moves at its own pace and balances dark and dry humor even between scenes of terror. At its most depraved, the emotional masochism that is demanded of the viewer may simply be too overwhelming to those expecting just another foreign gorefest from the director.
Among the films on FANGORIA’s Hulu page, I’d say AUDITION may be the most divisive, but nevertheless should be considered as essential viewing for any self-respecting horror fan. It’s a difficult film to sit through at parts, no doubt about it, but the suspense and intrigue Miike wields within the simple plot is worth your time alone. AUDITION earns its reputation as disturbing, demented and gross, but it’s also surprisingly elegant and affecting; a beautiful nightmare of lost love and sadistic fantasy through the eyes of one of Japan’s most talented cinematic storytellers.