“A truly shocking horror film about obsession gone evil, “Audition” is made even more disturbing by its haunting beauty.”
Ken Eisner, Variety
Miike Takashi is a director who doesn’t shy away from showing us the ugly aspect to life, and he certainly knows what audiences are traumatized by, but his 1999 film Audition is perhaps his most shocking film because it reveals how toxic the act of misogyny can be on women, and how devastating the results can be. Whilst, the character of Shigeharu Aoyama is the victim of the film, it is the character of Asami Yamazaki who is the far bigger victim, who has been subjected to misogyny throughout her life and has been used as a blank canvas for men to project their fantasies upon. Asami snaps as a result of this abuse, and it is only inevitable that she responds in the only way she knows how to, violently. Takashi does something revolutionary with Audition, he plays on society’s expectations and rewrites the rules of the horror genre as it is normally the woman who is the passive victim whose only role within the horror film is to die or be tormented for our pleasure. The film’s ending subverts the rules of horror, and places the man into the role of the woman, in a truly horrific scene of dominance and forced submission.
The film’s ending is perhaps one of the most disturbing scenes ever committed to screen, because it shows how society can damage an innocent individual, and shows that true monsters are not born but created and shaped by events and people they encounter throughout their lives. It can be argued that Audition is a revenge and a horror film, but the real question is whether it is misogynistic in its portrayal of women. We have to endure scenes of seeing the young Asami being burned on her leg, to hear how she describes being abused by her step-father and discover how she’s been betrayed by a previous lover. All of which seem perverse, and repeated multiple times, leaving us numb. Towards the end of the film she becomes almost cartoonish in her depiction, with her over-the-top cuteness as she cooes “Kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri!” whilst sticking needles into his body, is the film mocking her at this point?
Well, perhaps it’s actually mocking us (the audience) we have been led to believe that women are nothing more than fragile creatures and on first glance Asami appears meek, virtuous and delicate dressed in white with her hair down often covering her face. This is a deliberate choice to mislead the audience and it is her appearance and mannerisms which make her actions far more disturbing. As Tom Mes from Midnight Eye Reviews discusses, “The elfin actress smiles as she performs her misdeeds and talks in a hushed, almost comforting voice. Her “kiri-kiri-kiri” is such a stark contrast with what she’s doing, it makes the acts themselves even more disturbing. It’s this contrast between the acts and the person who commits them (Shiina’s frail, almost translucent beauty certainly adds to this) that makes the scene as powerful as it is, famously causing numerous audience walkouts wherever the film was shown.”
The film has certainly shown other women in an insulting way, especially during the audition sequence where women are shown to be nothing more than opportunists who are willing to take off their tops to show their breasts off to win a part in a fictional film. Women are described in a way that makes them sound like property of their male lovers, and reduced down to roles such as “mother” “lover” “cleaner” “assistant” etc. The other women featured in the film seem underdeveloped, ignored and shoved to one side, certainly this is the case of Aoyama’s female work colleague who he had an affair with, she is presented as this meek fragile character who is in love with Aoyama, but aside from a few brief scenes we see very little of her and we do not get any more backstory between their relationship. Aoyama’s deceased wife is seen briefly at the start of the film, but again we know very little about her, but she seems to be this holy virtuous woman, who is idolized by her husband but reduced to just being seen as a wife and mother.
But what about the character of Asami, can we argue that she is the ultimate feminist icon? She certainly takes on the males who dominant her life, and uses her manners, beauty and persona to seduce men. She uses society’s expectations of women to her advantage, and goes undetected despite committing murder and mutilation, but she’s such a twisted villian that she appears too over the top and unrealistic. The film certainly does not come across as a feminist one which paints women as empowering people due to the fact that other female characters are presented in a poor light. Tom Mes discusses it, the film lacks any feminist intent, he states that “Feminist intent requires a film to display two factors: an ideological agenda and a sense of judgment, both of which are missing from Audition. The element of sexism is undeniably present, but is never a basis for judgment. Aoyama is not portrayed as evil or intentionally sexist, while Asami too lies to and deceives him. Sexism here is a tool, one example of the ways human beings can misunderstand each other. Audition is not about men’s mistreatment of women or women’s position in relation to men.” So, is the real purpose of the film to explore the power struggle between men and women? This is certainly a compelling argument to consider when analyzing the film.
Perhaps it is too naive of us to argue whether Audition is or is not a feminist film or a misogynist piece, as Dennis Lim from The LA Times puts it, “It is too simplistic, however, to label Miike’s film as feminist — or misogynist. What’s most surprising about Audition is the complex depiction of the characters, who are both predators and victims and, even at their worst, largely sympathetic figures.” Even though Asami commits the most hideous crimes, she is simply a victim of the patriarchal society she lives in, and Shigeharu is a victim of the same society because he has been conditioned into believing happiness is found through companionship. Shigeharu is denied a chance to show his vulnerability and sorrow, he loses his wife at the start of the film, and we immediately skip ahead by seven years, we do not see if he goes through the correct stages of grief and the film’s dream sequence towards the end suggests he hasn’t. It his fear of loneliness, and being seen as vulnerable that drives his decision to hold the audition.
It is also suggested that Asami is a manifestation of his guilt for seeking a new wife, as discussed by Lim “Miike suggests that Asami is, to some degree, a figment of Aoyama’s imagination — or, more to the point, a projection of his guilt (at having betrayed his late wife and seduced his new girlfriend under false pretenses).” Again this implies that the piece is misogynistic, as it shows a fear of women. The reaction to fearing women who explain the surreal dream sequence just after Aoyama has been drugged by Asami as we see Asami’s treatment of her ex-lover (forcing him to drink a bowl of her vomit and seeing the mulated parts of his body). However, the dream sequence could also be seen as being formulated in Asami’s mind as she mentally recaps her difficult history which led her to the life she leads now, and if this is indeed the case then it shows the effects of misogyny and the brutal impact of male abuse, so it can be argued that it is a feminist film.
Regardless of whether the film is misogynist or feminist, it still leaves a lasting impact that will leave you shaken to your bones. The film pushes the boundaries of human endurance, and is certainly not for the faint hearted. This is more than just a cheap horror gore filled video nasty though, there is a critical piece which looks at how we as a society create such monsters and holds up a mirror to society so we can judge the expectations that are forced upon women. This film is a masterpiece, but don’t take that from me, take it from Quentin Tarantino who described it as a “true masterpiece if ever there was one.”