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Blu-ray Disc Released: 106/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/24/2009; Updated 1/23/2019
Because we've been taught to feel this way, Americans believe that everything
that we do is the best in the world. While we will concede to other countries in
some categories, we usually think that we're the best. In 1987, Paramount
Pictures released Fatal Attraction, and as far as we were concerned the
end-all-be-all movie about a crazy woman had been made. And, that was probably
true at the time. However, in 1999, the rules were changed. A Japanese film
called Audition came along which disintegrated everything which came
before it and still packs a wallop today.
As Audition opens, we meet Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) on the day that his wife dies. The story then leaps ahead 7 years. Aoyama is a successful businessman who likes spending time with his son, Shigehiko Aoyama (Tetsu Sawaki). But, his son is now a teenager who has a life of his one. Shigehiko tells Aoyama that he should get re-married. Aoyama is intrigued by this idea and mentions it to his friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), who comes up with a plan. Yoshikawa has made movies in the past and thinks that the two of them should hold auditions for a movie which could get made. They will audition young actresses and Aoyama will choose one to go out with. Reading the essays written by the actresses, Aoyama is drawn to a former ballerina named Asami Yamakazi (Eihi Shiina), and when he sees her in person, his opinion is solidified. He calls her and they begin to see each other. Asami is shy and demure, and she seems very sweet. However, Yoshikawa checks out her backstory and none of it checks out. But, Aoyama doesn't want to see the truth...until it's too late.
Audition comes from Director Takashi Miike, a Japanese filmmaker who has garnered a reputation for making some of the craziest and most disturbing movies in current cinema. Miike's movies often disgust, repulse, and simple baffle viewers and while their impact can't be denied, his actual skills are often overlooked. (I must admit that I've seen/tried to watch some of his other movies and simply couldn't get into them.) However, a close look at Audition reveals a talented filmmaker at the top of his game.
While I'm the kind of person who watches movies over and over again, I don't ever recommend this in my reviews -- until now. Audition is a film which must be watched at least twice. When one watches Audition, all that they usually remember is the shocking finale. The last reel of this film will stay with you long after seeing the movie and ask anyone who's seen Audition about the film and they'll no doubt talk about the last twenty minutes. Because of this, it's very important that you pay attention to the film's first act.
The film's opening plays like a very straightforward drama. We meet Aoyama and his son and learn their story. Nothing about the movie hints at the oddities to come. In fact, some of the film, most notably the music, comes across as quite cheesy. (While watching the movie again, I found myself thinking that if this were an American film, Richard Gere would be the star.) The set-up of finding a woman through a semi-fake movie audition may be a bit unique, but we've certainly seen stranger movies. Actually, some may become bored by the film as Miike lulls us into a false sense of security. It's not until the 50-minute mark that we get any indication that something is wrong. But, things don't spiral out of control...not immediately. Miike continues to take things slowly, feeding us bits and pieces of the story. When things do finally get weird, Miike hits us with both barrels, and Audition becomes an unforgettable experience. (The pacing isn't the only thing to note here -- Watch as Miike films many conversations from outside of the room, as if we are simply voyeurs in the story.)
Audition has gained a reputation as a challenging and shocking film, and rightfully so. And while it does take a strong will to make it to the end, Audition is also a very satisfying movie. Miike makes perfect use of the 3 act structure and what begins as a story of a lonely man ends as an exercise in madness. Is Audition the ultimate cautionary tale about a scorned woman? I don't know. I can say that the movie proves that an art-house mentality can be paired with good storytelling and incredible violence to make a film which leaves an indelible mark on the viewer.
Audition makes "kitty, kitty" sound incredibly
sinister on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout Factory! The film has been
letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs
at an average of 20 Mbps. I'm not sure how Audition is viewed in Japan,
but I can't believe that a better copy couldn't be found for this transfer. This
is clearly a theatrical print, as it has the "cigarette burns" in the upper
right hand corner at time throughout. The image is fairly sharp, but it is also
notably grainy. The image also shows defects from the source material, such as
scratches and black spots. The colors look good and the image is never overly
dark or bright. This is only a slight improvement over DVD. The Blu-ray has two
lossless tracks. We get a Dolby TrueHD 5 channel track which runs at 48 kHz and
an average of 1.4 Mbps and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5 channel track which runs at
48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. Both tracks provide clear dialogue and sound
effects. The stereo effects are quite good and the mix makes good use of the
notion that characters are constantly leaving the frame. The surround sound
effects are intermittent, but they seem to arrive at just the right time. Of the
two tracks, the DTS track showed more clarity.
The Audition Blu-ray Disc/DVD set contains several extras. The Blu-ray Disc contains an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Takashi Miike and Screenwriter Daisuke Tengan which is moderated by film writer Masato Kobayashi. This is a new commentary which was recorded in May, 2009. The remainder of the extras are found on the second disc, which is a DVD. On this disc, we get interviews with Ryo Ishibashi (16 minutes), Eihi Shiina (20 minutes), Renji Ishibashi (21 minutes) (who plays the creepy dance instructor), and Ren Osugi (16 minutes) (who plays a role which I can't reveal). Each of the speakers talk about their work on the film, their views of the film, and what it was like to work with Miike. The extras are rounded out by the film's INTERNATIONAL TRAILER and the JAPANESE TRAILER.
On February 12, 2019, Arrow Video released a new Blu-ray Disc of Audition. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is noticeably soft and there’s a fine sheen of grain on the image throughout. The colors look good and the picture is never overly dark or bright. It’s difficult to tell if the softness on the image is an intentional part of the original production or an issue with the transfer. It does serve to give the movie a dreamlike feel, but it also obscures details at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are somewhat limited here, but we do get some during street scenes. The finale does provide surround and subwoofer effects during some key moments.
The new release from Arrow contains the same extra features which were found on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray Disc, along with these new extras. We now have an AUDIO COMMENTARY by Miike historian Tom Mes. “Ties That Bind” (30 minutes) is an interview with Miike, as he discusses his views on Audition and his reaction to the film finding a global audience. “Damaged Romance: An Appreciation by Tony Rayns” (35 minutes) has the author providing an overview of Miike’s career and offering information on Audition. The final new extra is an IMAGE GALLERY.
Review Copyright 20092019 by Mike Long