Consider for a moment a typical romantic comedy—let’s take You’ve Got Mail for the sake of argument. Now, imagine if it were to be forced at gunpoint into relations with the always delightful matriarch of the video nasties, I Spit On Your Grave. Well, for those of you curious enough to wonder what the unlikely spawn of  these two disparate films would look like… Takashi Miike’s Audition folks!

Never one to shy away from the controversial, Japanese director and prolific powerhouse Takashi Miike has made a name for himself as a purveyor of the violent, the grotesque and the just plain weird. Audition is no exception to this rule—and yet this seems to be the only rule it makes a point of following! Nowhere else is Miike’s uncanny ability to straddle genres and quash audience expectation quite as unsettling as in Audition.

As the film starts we’re introduced to Aoyama, a widowed bachelor seeking to assimilate himself back into the dating market. Being somewhat shy and a little rusty Aoyama begins a rather unconventional search for a partner at the pressure of his friend working in the film industry, Yoshikawa. It turns out that the two will host a series of phony auditions for a fake movie project with the sole purpose of gathering a selection of prospective dates for Aoyama

During preparation for these questionable auditions, Aoyama becomes fascinated by Asami, a young auditionee claiming to have been a ballerina before a nondescript injury meant she had to give up the hobby forever. Her audition seems only to clarify his attraction leading him to meet the young woman in private. The two develop an instant affection for one another outside of “the movie,” one that eventually blossoms into a serious romantic involvement. But is Asami who she seems? The glacial pace of this first hour, while off-putting to some, is nevertheless teeming with some of the most strikingly unsettling imagery on film.  However

it’s the bizarre hallucinatory payoff that both bewilders and cements it as an undeniable classic of its period.

Audition is certainly a film where the less you know beforehand the more considerable its impact. There’s little to be said explicitly about the film’s ‘second movement’ that can be revealed without damaging the experience for a first time viewer. Needless to say, it’s a shocking, disturbing and at times very difficult movie to watch, let alone enjoy. It’s a film where the enjoyment is inseparable from its unruly and inscrutable nature. Sudden doesn’t do justice to how abruptly the film shifts gears come the final gruelling twenty minutes,  it’s an experience that will haunt you for days afterwards.

That being said, Miike’s films seem to divide and fracture audiences, and yet through all its abstraction and eclecticism, Audition is a film that will not fail to provoke discussion. Whether or not it’s technically a piece of social criticism is matter unto itself; whether the characterisation is stark enough for it to jump out as a glaring indictment on patriarchy or the typical expectation of female subservience is something that can be pondered over a thousand times and still be up for revision with subsequent viewings. What Miike does undeniably succeed in doing however is offering the audience two oddly humane characters, whose scars and whose faults express themselves regardless of genre, perhaps even in spite of it as the film arrives at its breathtaking and disturbing conclusion.

James Baxter