Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Audition”

For my final review of October, Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) is going “under the knife” to receive a proper dissection — this dissection being necessary to finalize our horror timeline, and to bring the intent to fruition. Audition is another psychological horror (akin to my previous review for Jacob’s Ladder), but with elements of a thriller and “sadistic horror.” The “sadistic horror” elements being the film’s most influential and most “revered” moments, although, they only occur in the latter half of the film.

In comparison to the other film’s I’ve written about this month, Audition‘s filmic elements are more subdued. The film emphasizes climactic horror, with a build-up in narrative that is far from anything else in the horror genre. In addition, this build-up is slow-paced with an atmosphere heavily dependent on the sets and the somber score, showing a difference of extremity between the first and second halves (romantic half/horror half). These two halves have versatility, having the ability to stand alone as separate entities and, I would argue, as separate films.

I believe this type of horror film is an embodiment of a Venn diagram, in my mind, with the  “halves” being one of most obvious contrasts within the film. Even so, I believe the Japanese film poster is indicating such, with the wire being in the shape of one and having Shigeharu Aoyama placed on one side of it.  

*Spoilers ahead*

Character & Acting: The characters that propel the film are Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) and Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). The film revolves around Shigeharu, who is an interestingly established character. Beginning with the death of his spouse and later focusing on his remarriage, the character is often displayed as level-headed, affectionate, and family-oriented. These traits displayed are wonderfully performed by Ishibashi, who forms and substantiates his character through underacting (in the initial, romantic half of the film). This creates more contrast in the filmic Venn diagram, and makes his pain in the “surgery” scene more convincing. The comedic portrayal of the character through the “family-oriented” trait is also beautifully executed by Ishibashi. Specifically seen when his son brings a girl to the house, which is deeply playful and somber with him displaying an “OK” sign.

Asami Yamazaki is one of the actresses to answer the ad for the film audition, which is a perfect set-up to a conventional love-story (since Shigeharu falls in love with her). However, this character is brought in with a demeanor of purity and innocence in order to disguise horror for the audience. Shiina gives a similar performance to Ishibashi, with emphasis on underacting to further contrast with the latter half of the film (making her psychopathy more convincing). The “audition” scene is a perfect example of Shiina giving an almost ghost-like performance, presenting herself with a blank expression wearing white clothing and answering the questions in a reserved manner (showing her actual character’s true ability to act). In contrast, the “surgery” scene reveals Asami’s psychopathy, and is hellishly acted by Shiina, turning her blank expressions to sadistic grins.

Mise-en-scène: Mise-en-scène is heavily stressed in the film, and many of the framed choices have deeper significance in a thematic sense. For example, The placement of the characters in the film either emphasizes connection or disconnection between the characters from one another. Specifically, both of the main characters have their backs turned to the audience in scenes of significance and for far too long. Shigeharu Aoyama seems to be angled for the purpose of disconnect —  both from his son and the world (possibly an adverse affect of his wife’s passing). The placement of Asami is also of disconnect, although it connects her with Shigeharu for his precedence of this positioning. Specifically, Asami is disconnected when being auditioned, with the positioning even separating both the producer (Jun Kunimura) and Shigeharu. This separation possibly shows the disparity of emotions being heavily weighed on the side of Shigeharu.    

The clothing of characters is also stressed. Asami is often placed in white clothing, which seems to hold significance. The more we delve into her past, the more the narrative unravels the purpose of the white. The innocence of childhood and her purity was encapsulated in the white, which took a darker turn as a we realized she had been turned psychopathic (for either revenge or pleasure). I also believe that lighting has importance in the film, through a number of powerful displays of low-key and high-key. For example, when both are present, the film has a definite use of a tense pace. This is best seen in the “bag” scene, in which the lighting also makes the bag the focal point in this sequence (making us question it).

Discontinuity: Discontinuity does occur in the film, with shots that seem out of place in the narrative. I believe that the dream-like sequences in this film are some of the most memorable, which are all the portions that provide discontinuity. For example, the scene of “the tongue” is a strange and visually disturbing shot. This shot comes out of nowhere for what the film was advancing at previously (romance and love). The scene shows a discussion between Shigeharu and a character near Asami’s supposed workplace. Shigeharu asks about the bar but finds out that a murder occurred in the business, and that it has not been in service for quite some time. The scene reaches the climax as the character describes the murder and the camera quickly cuts to a image of four severed fingers and a tongue lying in a pool of blood.

Cinematography: The cinematography is an important aspect for the film’s creativity and the film’s reality. I believe that many of the shots and angles employed were decided upon on for the meaningfulness of what to choose and the necessity of creativity. For example, the murder of man in wheelchair is shown at a low angle to portray the power of Asami as well as show her psychopathic nature really unfolding. The low-angle seems to be a rather common usage, but when coupled with the high intensity of a gruesome murder, the shot gains emphasized meaning. The cinematographer also employs various filters at different occasions, overwhelming the audience of that particular color. This allows for color to intensify the mood, the message, and the meaning of scenes. Overall, the cinematography is effective in being visually appealing and inviting, but also in highlighting the horrific events.

Conclusion: Audition (1999) is a creative and intriguing film that has influenced the extremes of the horror genre with a variety of techniques — some techniques that are important for the deeper connection between the portions of the narrative, and others that serve for the allowance of comparison. I believe this film is important and should not be overlooked, though it is not for the squeamish.

4 out of 5

— Christian Mietus, Film Blogger

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