Audition debuted on these shores just under a decade ago, establishing itself as the ultimate freak-out flick, with an unsettling, Croneberge-esque build up that led to one of the most shocking and stomach churning denouements in motion picture history. It was the film that made director Takashi Miike a household name among horror fans, and is still widely considered the go-to movie for Asian horror neophytes. Now, in celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary, Shout! Factory brings Miike’s classic to Blu-ray, with an all-new HD transfer, and over 70 minutes of all-new special features.
Audition opens with video production company CEO, Aoyama (the excellent Ryo Ishibashi) sitting beside his dying wife, who passes away just as the couple’s young son, Shigehiko, enters the room with flowers for his mother. The film flashes forward seven years; Aoyama is virtually sleepwalking through his life, consumed by loneliness, with only his now teenage son keeping him going. While Shigehiko misses his mother just as much as his father does, he also wants his father to be happy, and suggests that Aoyama consider finding someone to spend the rest of his life with. At first Aoyama won’t hear of it, as he can’t even begin to fathom the idea of replacing his beloved wife with someone new, but, in time, he warms to the idea, and seeks the advice of his friend, Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura).
Yoshikawa suggests that Aoyama use his position at the video company to run a phony casting call for a fictional series in order to audition prospective new brides. Aoyama hates the idea, but, seeing as how he has little faith it will actually work, he goes ahead with Yoshikawa’s plan. He and Yoshikawa begin screening resumes, weeding out the less savory applicants, and, finally, settle on a batch to audition. After several interviews, however, Aoyama is convinced that Yoshikawa’s plan is a failure, but, just as he’s about to throw in the towel, in walks the lovely Asami (model/actress Eihi Shiina), who embodies all of the qualities Aoyama seeks. She’s beautiful, quiet, talented, and gracious, but, at just twenty four years old, she’s also nearly half Aoyama’s age, and, in his mind, hopelessly out of his league. Surprisingly, Asami is receptive to Aoyama’s suggestion that they get to know each other better, and, after several dates, Aoyama falls head over heels in love with her.
As Asami and Aoyama get closer, Yoshikawa begins to express his doubts about the girl. Aoyama doesn’t want to hear it, though, as he’s now determined to make Asami his bride. Undeterred, Yoshikawa begins looking into Asami’s past, but, while his investigation only leads to more questions, Aoyama begins to discover that there’s more to Asami than meets the eye.
Audition is a tough film to pigeonhole, as it’s at once a love story, moving drama, twisted dark comedy, and a truly disturbing piece of psychological horror. It’s the sort of film that demands repeat viewings, and, in my opinion only gets better each time I see it. I’ve heard the criticisms about this film being slow, or only worth watching for its outrageous ending, but I couldn’t disagree more. To the contrary, the film’s build up is what makes said ending so downright effective, as Miike so expertly develops his characters that, by the end of the film, we’ve taken a vested interest in each and every one of their respective fates. In my opinion, were it not for the longish set up, the final act wouldn’t be nearly as disturbing or gut-wrenching.
Of course, none of this would make a difference were it not for the talents of the actors inhabiting these roles, especially Ishibashi, whose hang-dog expressions and low-key delivery make his Aoyami a character we cannot help but to root for. At first, we’re rooting for him to find love, but, as the story progresses, we’re praying for his survival. Eihi Shiina, meanwhile, manages to imbue Asami with stunning grace, an air of mystery, and a palpable sense of unease using little more than simple gestures and expressions. She doesn’t have much to say, but, when she does, it speaks volumes.
Shout! Factory brings Audition to Blu-ray in a feature-laden special edition 2-disc set. Disc one features the film, itself, in a lovely 1.78:1 1080p transfer, remastered from the original negative. While there are some insignificant instances of print damage, the image quality is, for the most part, exceptional. The level of detail on display is remarkable, especially in faces and textures, while deep, lush blacks lend the image a sense of true depth. Colors are vibrant and true, while skintones are accurate and consistent. There’s omnipresent grain, but it’s of the welcome cinematic variety, and it provides a pleasing film-like quality to the image.
Shout! Factory goes all out in the audio department, offering both a 5.0 Dolby True HD and 5.0 DTS HD track, also remastered from the film’s original source audio. The result is a crisp, thoroughly immersive mix that makes liberal use of the entire soundfield, while providing crystal clear dialogue, and expertly isolated surround effects.
In addition to the significant upgrades of the look and sound of the film, the story has gotten a makeover as well, with newly translated subtitles that read more fluidly than the awkward subs of previous editions. The changes are subtle, but much appreciated, as several exchanges that were once clunky and unnecessarily verbose have been streamlined into something more elegant and coherent.
Supplements on disc one include an all-new commentary track from director Takashi Miike and screenwriter, Daisuke Tengan. The rest of the extras are presented on standard definition DVD, and feature more than an hour’s worth of interviews with Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, and others. Also included are trailers for the film, as well as an enclosed booklet featuring an essay by author, Tom Mes (Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike).
Audition is a modern classic, and is a film that will surely influence and entertain for generations to come. As one of the key harbingers of the Asian horror invasion, Miike’s film has gone on to define that sub-genre, as well as make its own mark on western horror cinema as a whole. Shout! Factory’s excellent collector’s edition Blu-ray is now the definitive edition of this important film, and one that should find its way into every self-respecting horror fan’s library. Audition gets my highest possible recommendation.