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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My 40 Favorite Films of the 90's - 40 - Audition (1999)

Audition: 1999; Basara Pictures
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Daisuke Tengan
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina

Kicking off this list of my 40 favorite movies from the 90's is one of the hardest sits of my life.  I watched Audition shortly after its release and was disturbed, disgusted, shocked and yet I loved every minute of it.  I will not hold back in saying that Audition is easily one of the most disturbing films ever made as director Takashi Miike is a master of sensory filmmaking and with films like Gozu and the Happiness of the Katakuris he blends different visual and tonal ideas, all having a certain visceral feel to them.  Audition is built upon a very simple, yet structural, use of tension and as it grows and grows the events in the movie become even more disturbing, revealing one of the most hard-to-watch final acts of any film I have ever seen.  

The plot follows a widower named Shigeru (Ishibashi) who is convinced by his brother to hold a fake audition for musicians, with the true intention being to find a new wife for the lonely man.  The one perfect girl, Asami (Shiina), seems so beautiful and so sweet to Shigeru and we get the same impressions of her from the start.  However, this expectation is promptly crushed as the film progresses and, at the start of the 2nd act, we finally get a glimpse into just how disturbed she really is.  The conclusion of this film is a prolonged, slow and quiet torture scene, where we can hear and even feel the acupuncture needles going behind the eyes and the piano-wire sawing Shigeru's feet off.  It is all done in graphic detail and with a shocking level of intimacy, especially in the sound production, which is some of the best in the horror genre.  Every sinew, every severed vein, ever prick and prod is heard over a deafening silence, otherwise only broken by a heavily-drugged and nearly-paralyzed Shigeru’s stifled cries of pain and Asami’s gleeful yet eerily-soft singing.

Now, despite its disturbing premise and final scenes, Audition is a beautiful film.  It is all very soft and delicate, with lots of close shots and lingering scenes that do not feel dragged out, instead they all add to the boiling pot.  There are a few scenes in particular that are framed just beautifully.  Long shots down a dark hallway lit in the foreground by a soft blue fluorescent light, and beautifully-framed scenes of silhouette and interior scenery that are surprisingly not boring.  Miike is very good at visual tone, and he uses the cold, sterile fluorescent lights of Shigeru's life to contrast with the warmer golden of Asami’s.  It is meant, I believe, to be a siren’s song for the audience, as though she can bring warmth and color to his world again.  We know in the end, however that this will not happen.

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