Formally the domain of British giant Hammer and latterly Hollywood in the 1970s, Late 1990s and early 2000 Japan has produced some of the most memorable and disturbing films. Other than Ring and Dark Water, which have both since received English-language remakes, one film has yet to find an auteur willing to take on the job. Directed by controversial maestro Takashi Miike, Audition is regarded as his finest work in exploitation and horror and helped shape and influence the growth in popularity of Hollywood torture porn films like Saw and Hostel.
Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widowed father of one whose son is beginning his first relationship with a girl. Advising his father not to wait too long before finding a new wife, Shigeharu enlists the help of his friend Yasuhiso (Jun Kunimura) a film producer who suggests a plan of holding an audition for a potential film role and using this as a way of finding the perfect woman. Agreeing the two men go through the audition process, and Shigeharu becomes entranced with a former ballet dancer called Asami (Eihi Shiina) and, using the film as an ice-breaker, begins a relationship with her. However after their first night of passion she goes missing and as Shigeharu goes into her past to find her, he begins to uncover the strange and shocking truth of her personal history.
Like many Japanese horrors of the 1990s, Audition begins as more of a family drama, with very little obvious horror tropes used. Instead it relies on building suspense by small hints in dialogue, while slowly drip-feeding potentially catastrophic clues to the soon to unfold horror. Whereas Saw or Hostel would jump into slow violin notes or a particularly brutal scene, Audition knows exactly how to shock in the shortest possible time and happily gives depth to the characters that it will soon terrorise. It is this that adds weight to the final, horrible scenes.
The scenes of torture themselves are what separates Audition from many of its peers, with a lingering fascination given to every shot. As the audiences mind morbidly wants to see a little more detail, Audition is more than happy to oblige. Yet it never feels unbelievable, which in itself is the most harrowing aspect.