Ôdishon (English title: Audition). 1999. Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay by Daisuke Tengan, based on a novel by Ryû Murakami.
Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, & Miyuki Matsuda.
Basara Pictures / Creators Company Connection / Omega Project
Rated R / 115 minutes
Drama / Horror / Mystery
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Anybody who knows Takashi Miike’s reputation knows that, regardless of genre, his films are wild. Though his filmography is piled high with strange, disturbing gems, he may never have directed a film as thoroughly disturbing as 1999’s Audition, based on the equally disturbed novel by Ryû Murakami. A film like Audition can be read a number of ways, and it’s gained some scholarly attention over the years; some academics and critics have perceived it as both feminist and misogynistic.
My personal reading of the film will focus on a number of elements that intersect; not only gender, but class and age, too, all of which comes to bear on the power dynamics happening between the two main characters. Gender will still be the strongest focus, as I look at how Audition violently subverts the gendered power dynamics of the entertainment industry and patriarchal society itself.
Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widower, grieving for the loss of his wife. After seven years, his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) suggests he looks for a new wife. With the help of a film producer friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), he sets up auditions for a film with the intention of auditioning himself a wife. Aoyama meets Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), a shy, mysterious young woman, and all but instantly falls in love.
Aoyama and Asami get to know one another. They have sex one night. After that, the young woman disappears. Eventually Asami comes back into Aoyama’s life violently as if seeking retribution for some awful sin. Their whirlwind romance ends, becoming nothing but blood and terror.
“I don’t know much about ovaries”
Aoyama treats his search for a new wife like a game, auditioning women with an elaborate staged audition process under the false pretence of a film production. He treats women like objects, lining them up so he can pluck out his “ideal one” who’s “obedient and well–trained.” His film producer pal calls it their “trap,” as if women are animals to be baited and lured into capture. The fact it’s a film audition makes the whole thing a perfect parallel for the entertainment industry itself and how it’s like one giant butcher shop with women propped up in the window.
During one scene, Aoyama gets giddy over finding a new wife: “It‘s like buying my first car.” Even his film producer buddy’s not as bad of a misogynist, replying: “Don‘t confuse your car with your wife.” The objectification of women couldn’t be more clear in the film’s first quarter, though Asami changes all that later.
The exploitation in the entertainment industry, represented by Aoyama and his friend, is further mirrored in Asami’s exploitation by the man at the dance studio, continuing the abuse she experienced at the hands of an abusive aunt earlier. Sadly, at every level, men exploit the bodies of women and girls by way of their talent, or their will to hone their talents, the process of which is charted in Asami’s life throughout Audition. Asami goes from a little girl doing ballet being physically abused by an older man, to a young woman getting emotionally exploited into a relationship by Aoyama, an entire life—both individual and professional—dictated by the abuse and lies of men.
The fact Asami’s been abused by older men is significant, too. Even when she’s of legal age, at twenty-four during the film’s present day events, she’s manipulated by an older man. Not only does Aoyama use his own age and gender to manipulate a younger woman, he uses his bourgeois class to initiate his whole plan. If he wasn’t a well-off man he wouldn’t have access to a film producer who’s willing to setup a whole fake audition to facilitate him finding a potential wife. Aoyama’s manipulation of Asami is as creepy as it is complex, with many power dynamics at play, not only gender.
We see a subversion of the power dynamics in the entertainment industry via Asami and the way she takes vengeance on men. Sure, Aoyama didn’t deserve the torture Asami puts him through, even if he’s a misogynistic, sexist creep. But, through allegory, he’s symbolic of all men in the entertainment industry who’ve abused their power, and Asami hobbles Aoyama just like she did the old man in the wheelchair from her past at the dance studio—not trying to kill them but leave them permanently scarred, incapable of ever forgetting the trauma she’s inflicted on them; an externalisation of the internal psychological damage that will forever remain with Asami due to her history of abuse, the corporeal equivalent of her spiritual wounds.
Admittedly, Asami does murder at least one woman. We can attribute that to the fact Asami was also abused by her aunt, a woman whose internalised misogyny allowed her to hurt a little girl. Also it’s significant she murdered the woman, whereas her male victims all become victims of excruciating torture, sometimes lasting years, in the sense Asami takes their feet and allows them to live. Even the old man, before he dies years later, lives for a long while with two prosthetic feet due to the vengeance Asami visits upon him. That’s because she wants them to suffer until she says the time is right for them to die, treating suffering like a dominatrix, only with a fatal result.
Men often bypass women’s consent in a number of ways, such as in the way Aoyama tricks Asami into a relationship by creating the audition. It can happen on somewhat small albeit still disturbing levels, like men sending unsolicited dick pictures online or via text, or on bigger levels, like rape. Asami’s torture of Aoyama is so powerful because she completely robs him of any need for consent, and does so through a subversion of kink imagery. BDSM is all about consent between those involved. That’s why depictions in fiction like 50 Shades of Grey, for instance, are actually offensive to those of us who consider ourselves part of the kink community, as they either don’t comprehend the nature of kink and consent, or don’t care enough to portray it with honesty, seriousness, and sensitivity. Asami uses certain kink-coded imagery in her torture to subvert BDSM practices to strike back at Aoyama, and men in general, who treat consent flippantly. The syringe and the needles Asami pushes into Aoyama bring to mind the practice of needle play, in which consenting folks have themselves pierced to experience the sensation rather than create a lasting body decoration. Instead of pain for pleasure, Asami uses needle play to torture Aoyama.
Most hideously disturbing, and significant to the subversion of kink for revenge, of all in Audition is the way Asami treats the Man in the Bag. When the bag’s finally opened there’s a feral, mutilated man inside. More importantly, the man’s treated like a dog by Asami, again bringing to mind another facet of kink subcultures: puppy play. Asami subverts puppy play by creating her own personal dog, using violence for painful dominance and control—and not the sexy kind, either. This subversion of dog-master role play culminates in the nausea-inducing scene when Asami vomits into a bowl—which the actress actually did, according to Miike—and then feeds her ‘dog,’ who hungrily laps up his food and mumbles: “Yummy.” By the end, even though Asami’s likely dying, she’s taken revenge upon the older men who’ve exploited her and she’s dominated them to macabre extents.
Although I don’t consider Audition a feminist film it’s undeniable the whole story and plot revolves around gender and the power dynamics of gender within relationships. There are a number of factors at play, making Miike’s film an intersectional one, exploring how age, gender, and class come together in horrific ways when men opt to use their power to exploit and abuse girls/women. Audition is a powerfully disturbing piece of work. It’s the tale of a woman becoming “the real heroine, not in the movie,” taking visceral and violent revenge against men who’ve treated her body, mind, and soul like playthings a boy would beat around in a sandbox. It’s an allegory of the physical and psychological violence perpetrated against women in the entertainment industry, yet it’s endemic of patriarchal societies as a whole and how we treat women and their bodies.
Maybe cutting off men’s feet and keeping dudes in a bag and cutting off their tongues is a bit much. Then again, so is sexually abusing little girls and exploiting women in endless ways.
The real message of Audition? Men are dogs.