From there, Audition officially becomes a Takashi Miike film, albeit one that's more dramatically supple and multi-layered than his usual midnight madness. Along with Psycho, Something Wild, and F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, to name just a few examples, Audition is one of the great gearshift movies, starting out as one thing and then transitioning on a dime into something else entirely. And like those others, the second half doesn't shed the first like a snake molting, it builds on what happened before, adding new meaning to scenes that might not have seemed that significant. It's possible, for example, to see Asami's actions as righteous blowback for the narrow thinking that led Aoyama to "cast" his future wife to begin with. Granted, Aoyama pays disproportionately for his sexism and deceptiveness—a feature of the female revenge story from Medea to Ms. 45—but he isn't entirely free from culpability.

Take the above clip: Aoyama labors for some time over whether to call Asami or end the casting charade and leave her alone. The way Miike stages it, she's almost like an evil robot waiting to be activated. Sitting prone on a bare floor, with nothing but a rotary phone and that laundry sack in the room, Asami waits with her head down and her long hair shrouding her face. If that phone doesn't ring, it's almost as if Asami will never come alive, like she's a nightmare that Aoyama literally calls into existence. In that sense, it's really his decision that causes this mysterious creature to exact unimaginable torture upon him. And Miike, committed sicko that he is, isn't entirely unsympathetic to Asami's point of view, even while he works to make her one of screen history's most chilling psychopaths.


The second half of Audition also finds Miike and Tengan piling so many flashbacks and dream sequences on top of each other that it becomes hard to discern what's really true and what's a manifestation of a character's bruised psyche. One thing that's almost certainly true: The burn scars on Asami's inside thigh come from her childhood dance instructor, whose teachings included branding her with a pair of a scalding-hot chopsticks. Also true: The same instructor is confined to a wheelchair after having his feet severed by piano wire. ("This wire can cut meat and bone very easily," she announces.) But when Aoyama takes Asami to a seaside getaway, where the two share some intimacies, things get a little more ambiguous.


From that point on, once Aoyama gets tangled in the sheets, it's suggested that everything that happens afterward could be some sort of post-coital anxiety dream. One of the great perverse moments of the film has Aoyama, in the middle of being tortured, waking up in that same bed by the sea, with Asami sleeping peacefully by his side. For a second, we can breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that Asami's deviance is just a manifestation of Aoyama's overactive imagination, his mind's attempt to fill in the blanks of her opaque personality. At the same time, the "it's all a dream" thing is the ultimate copout, too, so it's an even greater relief to discover that the vision of Aoyama laying peacefully with his young girlfriend by his side is, in fact, a dream, and his torment at Asami's hands is reality. Miike yanks the rug out twice, and in doing so, deepens the dread immeasurably.

As for the torture scene itself, many find Asami's diabolical use of acupuncture impossible to watch, and I'll admit to peering through webbed fingers. But am I alone in finding weirdly intimate, even erotic undercurrents to it? This isn't just Miike's idea of S&M;—the implements might work, but most S&M; scenarios don't start with one partner paralyzed—but Asami trying in her own way to secure Aoyama's love exclusively. (A little like what Julian Sands does to Sherilyn Fenn in Boxing Helena, except, you know, not lame.) Asami wants him to understand her pain and connect with it, and her gentle way with the needle, accompanied by the hypnotic words "deeper, deeper, deeper," draw him rather tenderly into a world of hurt. In the end, Audition is about romantic obsession: Aoyama's desire to cast his future bride in a very particular way recalls Jimmy Stewart sculpting the second Kim Novak in Vertigo, while Asami asks for his complete love and devotion, no matter if it costs him his son or (somehow sadder) his poor pet beagle. Miike ends with a shot of a lonely young Asami strapping on her ballet shoes, which shows you where his sick heart lies.


Coming Up:

Horror Month continues…

Nov. 20: Pulse

Nov. 26: The Devil's Rejects

Dec. 4: Fallen Angels

Dec. 11: Exotica