I first saw Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) as part of a horror film class in college. At the time I had never heard of the film, nor knew anything about the plot, and when I told friends what movie we were watching in class that week, the reactions were usually something like “Oh man…” or “Good luck”, or in the case of a female friend, a wide grin followed by the exclamation “I love Audition!”
Like many horror films, Audition is at its most powerful if you go in knowing as little as possible. During that first experience, I had no idea where this film was going until about halfway through, where the tone of the film suddenly switches from somber contemplation to hallucinatory nightmare. Much like the killer in the film, Audition is patient, luring viewers into its trap so perfectly that you don’t realize it has you until you’re completely helpless and at its mercy when that final torture scene hits. I still remember vividly sitting there in class watching the final moments of the film and resisting the urge to close my eyes or look away until it was all over. This was the first time a horror film had ever had that effect on me. When the credits rolled and the lights came back on, our professor admitted that even he had to step out of the room during the ending despite having seen the film before. At the very end of the semester, a poll was taken from the class to see which of the films we had watched was the scariest, and every woman in the class said that Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) was the film that scared them the most, while every man said Audition.
To say that both Last House and Audition prey on innate male and female fears would be an understatement. I’ve known a few men that said Audition scared them because of the fear of finding the perfect woman only to discover that she’s crazy, but Audition probes deeper into male fears than just the “crazy girlfriend” trope. To recap, it tells the story of Shigeharu, a lonely widower and father who decides that he finally wants to remarry. Acting on the advice of a friend that works in the film business, Shigeharu holds an audition under the pretense that they are casting for a new feature film, but the real goal is to have women audition for the role of Shigeharu’s future wife. One of the potential mates, a woman named Asami, quickly wins Shigeharu over. Little does Shigeharu know that Asami is a serial killer that lures predatory men into her web and then administers violent, tortuous punishment to them.
One thing we’ve all probably heard from some men time and time again is how they had a failed relationship with a woman because “she was crazy,” but the flip side of this is that if you talk to any woman, they’ll tell you that behind every male-labeled “crazy woman” is the man that that pushed her to that point. Often in these situations, the man is unable or unwilling to engage with the woman beyond seeing her as an object for his own pleasure. More often than not, this kind of man is manipulative and abusive but never reevaluates his own behavior or attitudes. For this kind of guy, any time a woman pushes back or expresses anger at his actions, she’s just being “crazy.”
Horror films are rarely accurate portrayals of real life, and instead choose to show a situation taken to its most extreme conclusion, and Audition is an example of a woman pushed over the edge by this kind of predatory man. Asami was used and abused by men as a child, no doubt leaving major psychological scarring, and in typical horror movie fashion, she becomes a serial killer that targets these kinds of men. The film never celebrates Asami’s actions, it makes it clear that what she’s doing is clearly wrong, but it also wants us to understand her motivations.
The same can be said with Shigeharu. It’s very clear that Shigeharu is going about finding a new wife completely wrong, but we also understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. I’ve written before about how my sympathies lie with Shigeharu because at heart he is a good man, but like all of us, he is also flawed. Many horror films are predicated on people making bad decisions, and Shigeharu deciding to go forward with the audition seals his fate. We should hate him for engaging in such a predatory activity, but we relate with his primary motivator: loneliness. Of course, his methods of filling that missing part of him are… questionable at best. Still, he falls head over heels for Asami, and we somewhat feel for how strongly he seems to care for this woman. But despite his legitimate feelings for Asami, Shigeharu never truly reflects on his methods. There’s a moment in the film where he could come clean to Asami about the circumstances around the audition, but instead, he feeds her a lie, telling her that the role went to another actress. Shigeharu seems satisfied that Asami accepts this falsehood, so for him, the ends justify the means. If Asami didn’t turn out to have murderous intentions, Shigeharu seems completely content on building a life with this woman based on a lie. In fact, Shigeharu never really reflects on his actions and his behavior towards this woman until it’s too late when he hallucinates a coworker telling him that she hoped an affair between them would lead to something more, but he never felt the same about her. At this moment, Shigeharu realizes that he has never taken a woman’s feelings into consideration beyond just seeing them as objects for his own purposes. Of course, by this point in the film, Shigeharu has just been drugged by Asami in preparation for the climactic torture scene, so there’s little he can do to change his ways now.
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think anyone deserves to be stabbed with acupuncture needles and have their feet sawed off by piano wire, no matter what they’ve done, but still, this is a horror film, and Shigeharu must face consequences. Audition isn’t about finding the perfect girl only to find out that she’s a serial killer — it’s a film about the male fear of consequences. Many, many men have engaged in similar behavior as Shigeharu did (or worse), but rarely, if ever, face punishment for it. Asami delivers judgment on predatory men in spades, dehumanizing them physically the way they dehumanize women mentally and emotionally. Not only does Audition ask men to face the consequences of their own actions, but to realize the effect that other men’s bad behavior may have on a woman. The monster in Audition is a man-made one, a woman with a history of abuse that decided to turn that back onto the world. For some men, being held accountable and facing the results of their actions is akin to torture, and the women demanding it are just crazy people out to enact unfair revenge on an undeserving victim. It’s very easy to misread Audition as just another horror film about a crazy ex-girlfriend, but under the blood and gore, there’s a lot more to this film. One could say that it’s a horror film for the “Me Too” era, but the message of Audition is a timeless one about coming to terms with one’s own actions and behavior, and that is why, like Asami’s acupuncture needles, Audition finds a way to get under anyone’s skin after all these years and will continue to do so.
James Reinhardt is a screenwriter and podcaster with nine years of experience in the film industry and four years of experience scaring people professionally in the haunted house industry. Follow him on Twitter @JamesReinhardt.
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