Release Date(s)1999 (October 6, 2009)
Studio(s)Basara Pictures (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
One problem with a lot of the movies that get spotlighted during Hell Plaza Oktoberfest is that many of them aren’t... well, you know... scary. Sure, some of them offer up thrills and chills in a roller coaster or haunted house sense and others are just dumb gory fun. God bless these movies, I love ‘em all. But very few of them really get under your skin and make you squirm, hitting that sweet spot of dread where you feel like you’re seeing something forbidden and horrible. I’m talking about the kind of movie where you cannot predict what’s going to happen and at a certain point, you’re no longer entirely sure you still want to find out.
Audition is that kind of movie.
Released in 1999 (just one of several movies that year for prolific director Takashi Miike), Audition gradually earned an international reputation as a modern horror classic. Since then, it has become a fixture on lists of the scariest movies of all time, including Bravo, Time magazine, and others. Amazingly, the movie lives up to its reputation, continuing to enthrall and terrify viewers to this day.
One big reason that Audition works so well is that, for the first half hour or so, you sort of forget you’re even watching a horror movie. At first, it’s simply the story of a lonely middle-aged widower (Ryo Ishibashi) whose teenage son wants him to get back into the dating game and remarry. A movie producer buddy convinces him to hold an audition for his prospective bride-to-be. Ishibashi goes along with it and finds himself smitten by a beautiful, quiet former dancer (Eihi Shiina). Up to now, we could be watching a Neil LaBute comedy-drama like In the Company of Men. And then we see the bag...
Because Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan (adapting a novel by Ryu Murakami) take their time and ground the first hour so realistically, it makes the increasingly bizarre and painful events of the second all the more terrifying. But Miike isn’t merely going for shock value. There are subtleties at work that make Audition one of those rare movies, horror or otherwise, that you can discuss afterwards. The film has been described as both misogynistic and feminist, although in reality it defies such knee-jerk characterization. Miike blurs the lines and leaves the movie open to interpretation, making it one of the most fascinating and endlessly watchable horror movies in decades.
Audition makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout! Factory in an all-new double disc set. The image isn’t flawless and if you aren’t a fan of grain in your Blu-ray, you’ll be none too happy with the results here. But the picture is a satisfying recreation of the film’s theatrical presentation, superior to previous DVD editions I’ve seen. The audio has been given a fine digital workover, presented in 5.0 Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio or the original 2.0 stereo track. The movie is preceded by two video intros, one by a nervous Takashi Miike and the other by actress Eihi Shiina.
The first disc also includes a rare full-length commentary from Miike, joined by screenwriter Daisuke Tengan and moderated by writer Masato Kobayashi. It’s a first-rate track with behind-the-scenes stories, discussion of the differences between Japanese and American film industries, commentary on Miike-admirers like Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino and much more.
The second disc is a standard-def DVD including over an hour of new interviews with cast members Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi (the man in the wheelchair) and Ren Osugi (the man in the bag). Each of these is excellent, providing insight into Audition and the Japanese film industry in general. Two trailers (international and Japanese) round out the second disc and the package is completed with a booklet essay by film critic Tom Mes, author of the book Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike.
When a horror movie is compared to a roller coaster ride, you’re really saying two things. Yes, roller coasters are fun and scary. But you can also stand a good distance away from the ride and see exactly where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. Truly great horror movies don’t show you the tracks ahead of time and they don’t come along that often. If most horror is like a roller coaster, Audition is a ride where the tracks shift at random while you’re in the car, sometimes dropping out entirely and leaving you in free-fall. And that’s a ride worth taking again and again.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke