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Audition (1999)

In the late 1990s and into the early 21st century, horror films began to become much more explicit than they had been, even in the splatter-driven 1970s, but with an unsettling frisson of psychological torture added to the mix. In particular, Japanese and Korean horror films forged a new path of graphic violence, as evidenced in Takashi Miike’s deeply disturbing but brilliantly executed film Audition (1999).

Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) seems to be a docile young woman who is content to marry an older man — widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) — but appearances, as we will soon see, can be fatally deceptive. “Words create lies. Pain can be trusted” she tells Shigeharu.

Soon, the older man finds out that Asami isn’t kidding; her world is structured on pain, torture, and revenge. Miike’s direction is fluid and assured, no matter how graphic the film gets; actually, compared to a number of more recent horror films, Audition seems almost classically restrained.

Disturbing, unsettling, and unexpected, Audition is a horror film for a new generation, for whom the ancient monsters no longer hold any dread. Now, the monster is us, and the setting is not some Transylvanian never never land, but rather the domestic sphere — our homes, where we once felt safe. As Miike demonstrates, this is no longer the case.

As Elvis Mitchell wrote about Audition in The New York Times,

“With a quiet that’s meticulously transformed into moodiness and then fear-filled tension, the director Takashi Miike eases us in slowly; in the early part, the picture has the formal modesty of a work by Yasujiro Ozu, the Japanese director best known for his minimalist melodramas in which a vital element is missing from a family.

In Audition, what’s missing is a wife. The face of Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is slack with sadness. He’s a widower who has raised his son by himself. This solid middle-class citizen is finally persuaded to look for a new woman in his life by a friend who has a cold-blooded idea. Aoyoma is a television producer, and the friend has him try to find someone by auditioning women under the pretext of looking for an actress for his next project.”

Not recommended for the faint of heart.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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