“Ban this sick film!” has become a bit of a cliché, but it’s sure a hell a functional one. Advocating censorship is now almost as fashionable as whinging about it – the two obviously compliment each other, and as long as there are people going to see some of the more intense examples of film art that are on offer in this fine country of ours, then chances are there’ll be someone to complain about them.
How Audition slipped under the radar then, I will never know. Admittedly it doesn’t feature full frontal nudity, ‘actual’ sex scenes, or any of the other things that make French cinema great, but it is a nightmare tour-de-force that, for once, deserves its reputation (and, among other things, puts forward a really good case for why ballet is the source of all evil in the world). What makes Audition so repulsive is not the graphic violence, or even the morality – indeed, despite some fairly, uh, visceral moments, the gore quotient is surprisingly low, and the story is resolved, in a surprisingly conventional way (after a fashion). The issue lies in the psychology of the film, with both that injected by plot and characterisation, as well as Miike’s direction, proving to be the source of the true horror found in the piece.
It is difficult to imagine anyone walking into Audition without any concept of what they’re about to subject themselves to, and Miike structures his work accordingly. The first hour of the film is perfectly formed purely in itself, with every frame so laden with a sense of dramatic irony that it is almost impossible to watch. As Asami tells us before she goes to work with her needle, “Words create lies. Pain can be trusted.” She’s right of course; unpleasant as it is, it’s something of a relief when Aoyama finally condemns himself to what we’ve known has been coming all along. This makes the audience disturbingly complicit with what follows, especially as Asami’s story (which may or may not be true) unfolds. There’s no point in trying to describe anything about the plot though, (save what is written above). This is not for fear of spoilers – just because it won’t help in the slightest!
Miike is currently the darling of the festival circuit, and it’s not hard to see why. Again, although he pulls no punches for the majority of the ‘opening’ half, this really only serves to highlight the shift in tone when he cranks up the surreal-o-meter. On the few occasions Audition has been reviewed unfavourably, the most common critical response has been that the film has no real emotional core, and tries to create meaning by drenching itself in style. It’s hard to see Audition ‘disappointing’ anybody, even if the film as a whole is flawed (and I’m certainly not saying it is), but there is definitely enough in it to offend/affront/upset a lot of people. If you don’t find horror films entertaining as a rule, stay away from this one. The film succeeds because of Miike’s work here, but if you’re not prepared to accept it on its own terms, then back off. However, if you are partial to the odd piano wire decapitation, then this is for you. Just get to it before the evil Harradine censorship demon finds out about all the child mutilation and torture and tries to BAN THIS SICK FILM!