Audition (1999) is a horror film about falling in love. A widowed businessman, Aoyama, tentatively decides that he is ready to marry again. Touched by his resolve, his television producer friend devises a plan for finding the ideal bride. He will arrange a casting call for a phony film and the two of them will sit in on the auditions.
Director Takashi Miike creates a supremely twisted yet nuanced portrait of the loneliness, blind romanticism and eventual disillusionment (rather spectacular in this case) that can accompany infatuation. As the unfortunate protagonist, Ryu Ishibashi conveys these emotions terrifically, lessening the initial creepiness of the audition concept through his portrayal of Aoyama as an essentially decent man whose simple desire for love has horrible consequences.
Aoyama becomes infatuated with Asami (Eihi Shiina), a former ballet student who hints at a past which strikes a chord with his own experience of loss. Ironically, Asami is looking for exactly the same thing as Aoyama in a sense—someone who can love her exclusively. Their mutual obsession, however, leads them in drastically different directions. Described by the TV producer friend, albeit with some scepticism, as “beautiful, classy and obedient,” the seemingly meek Asami is an intriguing monster who turns the stereotype of the submissive Japanese woman on its head.
Miike has chosen Bizet’s haunting “Interlude” from Carmen, another tragedy of obsessive love, as the film’s refrain. It plays most noticeably during a scene of extraordinary gruesomeness, underlining the film’s poignancy as well as its horror. Audition might be notorious for its drawn-out scenes of torture, but it’s Miike’s investment in his characters’ psychological vulnerability that makes this film, for me, at least, comparable to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, another classic of romantic obsession.