31 DAYS OF HORROR #23: Dan Martin on AUDITION (1999)

Spoilers

From his effects work in recent genre mega-hits Host, Censor and Possessor, to co-hosting the Arrow Video Podcast, Dan Martin knows his horror. Here he unpacks his first encounter with one of the most shocking films in the genre’s history…

It was the year 2000 and I’d been properly bitten by the J-Horror bug. Two years previously I’d had a bootleg VHS of Hideo Nakata’s Ring pressed into my hand by a fellow horror fan and hadn’t looked back. I would consume everything I could get my hands on, the vast majority of it terrible.

I’d moved back into my parent’s house for a bit and whenever I visited London I would make sure to trawl the shops in China Town that were packed with grey-import VCDs and DVDs, desperate to find the next film that would blow my mind, as Ring had.

I’m not sure how official that DVD of Audition was – like most of those HK discs I picked up back then, it had a holographic sticker to show it hadn’t been opened and terrible dual language copy on the back which I didn’t read it: it was always better to go in cold. The disc had sat on my shelf for a few days back home before I got around to watching it, along with a pile of other titles including Andy Tau’s The Duel, Tokyo Raiders and the very disappointing early K-horror, Bloody Beach.

When I finally got around to Audition, I watched it in pretty poor conditions: late at night, on a 14” CRT TV, my then-girlfriend asleep across my lap in the small bedroom at my parent’s house. I enjoyed the first hour or so, ostensibly a simply presented tale of the morally defunct efforts of a widower (Ryo Ishibasi as Shigeharu) to find a new partner, but it wasn’t the chill-fest I’d hoped for after Ring, nor was it the gore-fest of Evil Dead Trap or Splatter: Naked Blood. But then the Miike magic started to creep in, the encroaching feeling that Shigeharu (and by extension, me, the viewer) had been lied to.

Takashi Miike’s cannon spans the breadth of cinema, from lyrical and thoughtful films such as Bird People of China, to the ultra extreme such as Ichi the Killer. I think he is at his strongest when he sits between these two worlds, and in Audition he does just that: using the calmness and well developed characters of the first part of the film to build a world we are comfortable in, only to then poke holes in the façade, revealing an ugly, extreme reality behind.

Before that I’d seen a couple of Miike’s films, but he wasn’t a name I was especially on the look out for; all that changed in that moment. I remember sitting, wide eyed and slack jawed at the film’s climax, utterly astonished by what I was watching.

I’ve seen the film countless times since. The next day I re-watched it with my girlfriend and in the following months I must have shown it to a dozen people, extolling its virtues but sharing as little about the plot as possible, revelling in seeing them take the ride I had experienced.

I’ve bought it several times in different editions and formats, a little while ago I got to introduce a screening of it at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, and I’ve discussed it with my co-host, Sam Ashurst, on our Arrow Video Podcast. For me it remains a lynchpin of both Japanese and horror cinema, and – with its masterful structure and story-telling – I genuinely feel that it is Miike’s greatest achievement.

Miike’s prolific cannon is a microcosm of the J-horror genre: there’s a lot of weird and often bad stuff to sift through, but it’s masterpieces like Audition that mean, as with the stars of the Ring franchise, you can’t stop going back to the well.

Dan Martin

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