Audition (Odishon)
dir. Takashi Miike
Opens Fri Oct 26
Cinema 21

Supposedly, there are vending machines in Japan where "ailing" gentlemen may purchase the dirty panties of barely legal schoolgirls. What they do with the panties is left to your imagination. But the fact is, the panties are purchasable, and that is not only nasty, but also likely to have a profound effect on the psyches of Japanese women, and how they view themselves.

The sexualization of the young woman is at the core of Audition, Takashi Miike's 1999 psychological thriller/ gore-fest. Called Japan's first feminist film by some, and surrounded by much controversy, Audition shows how constant sexualization and abuse can turn a seemingly well mannered, soft-spoken woman into a sadistic maniac.

Before we continue, here are my predictions for audience reaction during Audition: Half of one percent of the audience will become so disturbed, they will have to leave the theater, and half of one percent will barf in their popcorn. Six percent will scream like fatted raccoons, two percent will weep, and the remaining 91 percent will crouch cowardly inside their turtlenecks and laugh crazily for lack of any appropriate reaction--like I did. So, if you are one of those queasy people who pukes at the sight of others puking, please help out the friendly custodial staff of Cinema 21 and STAY HOME.

All right, thrill-seekers and panty-sniffers: Audition begins when a widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (played by Ryo Ishibashi), decides he needs another wife. Being fairly antisocial and looking "old," as his 17-year-old son tells him, the odds that he'll meet a nice lady the traditional way are looking pretty slim. So, he and his movie-making friend decide to hold an audition for a movie, in which young, beautiful women would secretly be auditioning for the part of Aoyama's new wife.

Aoyama is immediately enchanted by Asami Yamazaki (played by Eihi Shiina), a 24-year-old woman with a quiet, wispy voice and reserved, yet confident, mannerisms. She was a ballerina headed for greatness, but something happened to her hips, and she had to give dancing up for good. She likens her experience to a sort of living death, and Aoyama, still stricken from his ex-wife's death, is attracted to her depth. They begin seeing each other and seem to be falling in love.

Unfortunately, not only does Aoyama's director friend think something's amiss with Asami ("something chemical"), the audience starts to suspect she's trouble, too. We know because she lives in an empty, dirty apartment, furnished only with an ominous-looking burlap sack and a telephone. She stares at the telephone, waiting for Aoyama to call, and ignores the sack.

Something is in the sack. It might be a body.

We learn that Asami has some stereotypical woman-relationship issues. For instance, she doesn't want Aoyama to love anyone else, ever--ONLY HER--definitely a warning sign that she's insecure, and possibly a warning sign that she's totally bonkers. Another warning sign is that she makes unsettling, cryptic comments such as, "Words create lies; pain can be trusted." Unfortunately, Aoyama is so enthralled by her beauty, both inner and outer, that he is blinded by his love--mortally blinded, perhaps.

Any more plot information would require a spoiler alert, but here are some of the notes I made during the film: "In Japanese, the words 'Deeper, deeper,' sound a lot like 'Here, kitty, kitty,'" and "THIS MOVIE IS SO FUCKED UP." I think I wrote that last part in between hiding in my turtleneck and trying not to vomit.

Audition is filmed rather conventionally. The more ominous shots have an angular composition, however, so when they're wedged into the rest of the film's ordinariness, it's that much more effective in putting the viewer's psyche on edge. This filmmaking tactic is what propels the film beyond its sheer gore factor, and turns it into a genuinely frightening movie.