Directed by Takashi Miike
Screenplay by Daisuke Tengan
Based on the story by Ryu Murakami
Produced by Akemi Suyama & Satoshi Fukushima
Music by Koji Endo
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki & Miyuki Matsuda

1999/115 Mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
1.85:1/Japanese with English subtitles/Japan/NTSC Region 1


Review of the American Cinematheque/Chimera Entertainment DVD

The horror genre is alive and well and now resides in Japan. Whilst America spews out endless post-modern teen horrors Japan provides us with more adult fare such as Takashi Miike's AUDITION (1999) and Hideo Nakata's RING (1998). AUDITION isn't quite the masterpiece some critics have suggested, but itÕs still an effective psychological shocker, head and shoulders above most other horror films produced today.

The story revolves around a middle-aged man, Shigeharu Aoyama (actor Ryo Ishibashi, probably best known in the West for his roles in the AMERICAN YAKUZA films), whose wife dies leaving him alone with a young son to bring up. We move forward seven years and Aoyama decides he has been single long enough and wants to re-marry. His friend Yoshikawa, who is a film producer, persuades him to hold an audition for his perfect partner using the pretence that they are auditioning for a role in an upcoming movie. Aoyama agrees with the plan and sees the application of one woman, Asami Yamasaki (Eihi Shiina), who writes the prophetic words "I feel like a dead person, live or die it's just a thin line between them." She learned ballet for 12 years and gave up when she injured her waist at 18. Her words strike a chord with Aoyama, the two men audition dozens of beautiful young women, but Aoyama is struck most by Asami and decides to phone her for a one to one meeting.

Aoyama soon falls in love with the 24 year old woman, although we are given signs that she is not quite the angel Aoyama assumes, when we see her sitting waiting for the phone to ring, with a strange sack in the corner of the room. Aoyama plans a weekend trip to propose to her, but when the two go to bed at night he falls unconscious and awakes with a bad head and Asami has disappeared. As he attempts to trace her whereabouts, Aoyama discovers the real truth about Asami and her past, which involves child abuse, murder and torture.

AUDITION is a strange yet compelling film. Like a number of recent films from Japan, the unhurried pace will probably alienate a lot of Western viewers who won't have the patience to see it through to the bitter end. Well they're missing out because AUDITION builds itself up to a crescendo of mind-numbing violence which makes James Caan's plight in MISERY (1990) seem like a thoroughly pleasant experience. Takashi Miike's direction is excellent, although there are points where it's not clear whether we are witnessing a flashback, a journey into Aoyama's unconscious mind or actual reality. Whatever the case the final ten minutes of the movie are guaranteed to make you wince.

This American Special Edition DVD is brought to us by the American Cinematheque/Chimera Entertainment and distributed by Ventura distribution. As I'm sure many of you are aware, Tartan Video have released AUDITION on DVD in the UK and it was also released by the Universe Laser and Video Company in Hong Kong. Both contained English subtitles. However, the Universe NTSC DVD (coded Region 3) is strictly a no-thrills affair with few extras and an overly bright picture. The Tartan PAL DVD is uncut, but is also slightly disappointing, with little in the way of extras and an exceptionally dark print with burnt-in English subtitles, which occasionally merge into the bright backgrounds and can be hard to read.

This Region 1 NTSC DVD from the American Cinematheque has far more in terms of extras and a much sharper print. The extras include seven trailers for other American Cinematheque releases (including two for AUDITION) and newly remastered optional English subtitles (which are very clear and easy to read). Also the choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 soundtrack, a 24 minute interview with Takashi Miike, a photo gallery, liner notes and a short 32 minute commentary from the director (translated into English), which covers the final third of the film from Chapter 18 onwards. There are also 24 chapter stops, a Takashi Miike biography/filmography and a 9-minute tour of the Egyptian Theatre (home of the American Cinematheque). There's still a noticeable amount of grain in the film itself and several scenes are shrouded in darkness, but that has more to do with the way the film was shot, rather than the actual DVD itself. The only disappointing aspect of this US DVD is the packaging. The DVD comes in a card slipcase, which I tend to find are not as durable as plastic DVD cases and can easily be damaged.

With assured direction from Takashi Miike, a great performance by actor Ryo Ishibashi and a very cool calm performance by Eihi Shiina (who is actually a fashion model Š this was her first starring role) AUDITION is essential viewing. This Region 1 Special Edition DVD from the American Cinematheque is excellent value for money, loaded with extras and worth seeking out.





- Note from Webmaster Kim Dubuisson: "I'm surprised by the low rating on the packaging from my friend Brendan. I believe that the card slipcase for AUDITION is one of the most beautifully designed DVD package i've seen. Its very slick and stylish. I would have rate it way higher."

This Film Features:

Review by Brendan Maltman. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©

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