AUDITION (1999) 2-Disc Collector's Edition
Director: Takashi Miike
Shout! Factory

With countless internet sites providing up to the nanosecond news and reviews, the term “spoiler” has found itself a permanent foothold in the vernacular of cinema fans online. Want to know who’s directed what and with whom? Simply go online. Want to know a film's twist ending before its official release date? Google it. Unfortunately the rise and popularity of the “spoiler” has done as much harm as it has good, spoiling not only plot points and narrative twists, but all too often, the viewing experience as well. Not knowing what to expect when sitting down to enjoy a film can be incredibly rewarding. Unlike a novel, where you can skip ahead and read the final page, film is an investment in both your attention and time. If you want to know who the killer is, you’re going to have to stick it out until the end. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every film should be approached blindly, but there is such a thing as too much information.

The first time I watched PSYCHO, I felt nothing. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but I already knew who the killer was and I had seen the shower scene analyzed and parodied on numerous occasions in various formats. I knew so much about the film beforehand that the overall experience was tainted. In contrast, I can remember watching PLANET OF THE APES for the very first time like it was yesterday. I don't recall how old I was at the time, but I know it was a Saturday afternoon and POTA was playing on channel 12, the Superstation. While familiar with the title at the time, I was clueless to the film's conclusion. Needless to say, it blew me away. “You mean he’s still on… wait… WOW!” Because no one had spoiled it for me, I was left thunderstruck and in awe by the film's now infamous ending. I didn’t see it coming and it made a lasting impression. AUDITION was a similar experience.

My first PAL DVD purchase was of two Tartan U.K. releases, Kinji Fukasaku's BATTLE ROYALE and Takashi Miike's DEAD OR ALIVE. The rising controversy surrounding BATTLE ROYALE lead me to seek said title out, but DEAD OR ALIVE was completely a blind buy. If I'm paying this damn much for shipping and handling, I'm at least going to get more than one title. Upon receipt of my order, I immediately devoured both films, finding them each compelling in their own right, but it was DEAD OR ALIVE’s Earth-shattering conclusion that had me at KABOOM! I wanted to see more by Takashi Miike, and I wanted to see it now. Thankfully there was plenty to see. Famous for cranking out a ridiculous number of films, at one point averaging five a year, Miike’s work was at that time just beginning to receive broader recognition in the West. Tokyo Shock had just released FUDOH: THE NEW GENERATIOIN and VISITOR Q on DVD, but word of festival screening walk outs and a vomit inducing finale naturally persuaded me to pick up AUDITION as my next purchase. I however was not prepared. Not even in the slightest. AUDITION not only had me curled up on my couch, clutching a pillow like a 12 year old girl watching her first scary movie, it made me question the relationships I had shared with every girlfriend I had ever had. I love it and I wanted others to see, if for no other reason than to have someone else to talk about it with. Constantly singing the film's praises, I would invite friends over to watch it and in doing so was repeatedly asked, “So what exactly is it about?”

It’s been almost eight years since Shigeharu Aoyama’s (Ryo Ishibashi, SUICIDE CLUB, THE GRUDGE) wife passed away and his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) thinks that it’s finally time for his old man to find someone to share the rest of his life with. Reluctant to re-enter the dating game, the reserved Aoyama eventually warms up to an idea proposed by his friend, Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura). A film producer, Yoshikawa suggests that they hold an audition, one where the participants will think they are being interviewed for a role in a new feature, but are in fact being screened as possible suitors. Agreeing to the harebrained yet brilliantly clever scheme, Aoyama and Yoshikawa audition dud after dud until Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina, TOKYO GORE POLICE), a quite younger woman, catches Aoyama’s eye. There is something about Asami that is instantly appealing to Aoyama and after a few days, he decides to contact her for a call back. Meeting her for dinner, the two slowly begin to work their way into a relationship. As they get to know each other, Asami opens up to Aoyama of her troubled past, one filled with abuse as an adolescent that has left her physically scarred. As the two grow closer, Aoyama begins to discover that there might be more to Asami’s past than she first let on, and that their views on love and trust may not be as similar as he first thought, and that’s all you need to know. If someone tries to tell you what’s in the bag or tries to ruin the ending for you, slap them in the face, put your fingers in your ears, hum a happy tune and run in the other direction. The less you know the better.

Masquerading as a drama, AUDITION is an effectively deceptive horror film. As haunting as it is brutal, the film skillfully plays with audience expectations and horror conventions in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling angry or cheated, but relieved for simply having survived the ordeal. The film's slow burn may turn off some and its conclusion will no doubt repulse just as many, but by the time the end credits roll, those who have stuck it out until the end will feel as equally rewarded as disturbed, and possibly a bit nauseated.

Since AUDITION, Takashi Miike has slowed down a little, at least in terms of his yearly output of projects, but his films, their budgets and his notoriety have continued to grow, as have the number of his films currently available on DVD in the States. Tokyo Shock have continued to release the majority of Miikes’ films stateside, including the fantasy epic, THE GREAT YOKAI WAR, the controversial ICHI THE KILLER and the J-horror ONE MISSED CALL, which was remade in the U.S. last year under the same title. Most of Miike’s early yakuza films can be found through Artsmagic (The BLACK SOCIETY or BLACK TRIAD Trilogy) and one of his most recent productions, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, an English language prequel to Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO, was just recently released from First Look. Not all of his films have found the same acclaim in America as AUDITION, and truth be told there was a time not so long ago that the market seemed oversaturated with his work. Lesser direct to video titles were being advertised by the merits of his more mainstream films which lead to backlash from many a cult fan, but even those who hate Miike’s work still tend to tout AUDITION as a modern classic.

AUDITION was first released on DVD in 2002 by Chimera / American Cinematheque, who also released CITY OF LOST SOULS and the horror musical THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. That release, which features the same 155 minute, unrated cut presented on here, has long been out of print and was eventually replaced in 2005, when it was re-released onto DVD by LionsGate. Marking the film's 10th anniversary, Shout! Factory has brought Asami and her big brown bag back for a two-disc Collector's Edition with a new High-Definition transfer, accompanied by a new 5.0 digital soundtrack mixed from the original elements. Available in both standard and Blu-ray formats, the film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in anamorphic widescreen. Introduced by a brief word of thanks from both Miike and Shiina, the print source used looks exceptional. There’s a hint of grain but otherwise there isn’t a flaw to be had in terms of the visual presentation. Colors and flesh tones appear accurate and detail is quite sharp. Audio is available in either the aforementioned 5.0 Dolby Digital or in 2.0 stereo. Clear, without any noticeable distractions, both audio tracks are accompanied by burned-in English subtitles.

Special Features include a commentary track recorded in Tokyo, in May of 2009. Hosted by Masato Kobayashi, the commentary features Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan discussing numerous aspects of the film, including its cast and its reception around the world. Unlike previous commentary tracks, such as the one found on the Chimera release, the track covers the whole of the picture and features the three men speaking in their native Japanese with corresponding English subtitles. Disc Two features four brand new interviews with cast members Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi, shot and produced by Outcast Cinema. Allowing the actors to recall their characters and the film's shoot, each interview lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. Fans of the film (of which I obviously consider myself) will find Shiina’s interview of particular interest, as she discusses in some depth how she was hired for the role of Asami and how she and Miike decided to approach the character. She also discusses some of her more recent film roles, such as the lead in TOKYO GORE POLICE. International and Japanese trailers round out Disc Two’s extras. Tucked inside an attractive slipcase, the disc's keepcase includes a six page essay by Miike biographer Tom Mes, whose book Agitator – The Cinema of Takashi Miike is currently available through FAB press.

I completely understand why AUDITION might sound like a bit of a hard sell. It’s a horror film in which nothing really horrific happens for the first hour and a half. There's barely enough salacious material (nudity, violence, foul language) in the film to warrant a rating harsher than PG-13, save for the last 15 minutes which are, to put it mildly, f**ked up.
(Jason McElreath)