JAPANESE HORROR STORY
1999 / FROM FEBRUARY 29 / CERT. 18
WHEN IT CAME OUT in 1999, Takashi Miike’s Audition marked a thrillingly unsettling confluence of two fertile new strands in horror: the emergence of Japan as a novel source of fearsomely original genre pieces, and the dubious pleasures of torture porn. Despite both now being on the wane, thankfully in the latter’s case, the film still stands out as a puckishly unpleasant cruelty-fest, which disappoints only in abandoning its interesting gender-war themes in favour of ankle-slicing Grand Guignol.
There are vague shades of Vertigo in Miike’s tale of lonely widower Shigehiko (Ryo Ishibashi), who decides to audition young actresses for a non-existent film; he’s actually picking a new wife. His pursuit of an idealised woman, despite the fact he is surrounded by eminently real and appealing ones, is the clearest Hitchcockian echo, and of course it’s possible to read Audition as not much more than a Japanese retread of Fatal Attraction, complete with ill-fated family pet. For the first two thirds, though, there’s more to it than that, particularly Ishibashi’s performance as the misguided suitor — he’s a curiously sympathetic, guileless chauvinist.
A bizarre nested dream/flashback at the beginning of the third act, fleshing out plot elements that Shigehiko can’t possibly know, is a narrative step too far, but by then Miike has jubilantly committed to Audition’s climax. It’s one of the most audacious symphonies of sadism ever committed to screen, and will still have you lunging for the pause button and the gin. Kiri-kiri-kiri-kiri...