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...

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