Thursday, March 08, 2007

Movies: Don't quit your day job.

When Shakespeare wrote "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," I'm almost certain he was talking about the truly mediocre Audition by the consistently "oh-so-shocking" Takashi Miike, the tirelessly prolific standard-bearer of Asian extreme cinema.

For those who haven't seen this flick, I'm about to drop major spoilers all over this review; though, to be honest, the film's lethargic pacing and complete lack of interest in causality mean that the very concept of a spoiler is somewhat inapplicable.

Here we go. The plot of Audition involves a widower who, at the prodding of his son, who like dinosaurs (I mention this because it is the most salient bit of characterization Miike gives us regarding the son), decides to get remarried. Problem is the widower doesn't really have a particular woman in mind. He just wants to get married. This sort of thing counts as a psychological motivation in the world of Audition.

The widower explains his problem to a showbiz amigo of his and the buddy offers to hold auditions for fake flick. The widower can pick his new wife out of the clutch of wannabe actress that show up. This sort of thing strains credulity when it serves as the basis for a comedy, but Audition treats this moronic plan with an almost epic gravitas that would itself be funny if the flick appeared to be in on the joke. What, is Internet dating to straight forward? One almost wonders why nobody suggests he should dress a woman in order to truly meet his future wife before he proposed.

Anyway, the auditions go well and the widower finds the mysterious, by which I mean painfully un-emotive, woman of his dreams. The two lovers go on a series of dates so stilted that they'd be painful to watch if the pace of the movie wasn't so soporific it numbed viewers beyond the capacity to care. Supposedly the widower gets obsessed by love, though this is depicted mainly through long shots of him starring at the telephone with an expression that resembles the look of a man wondering if the feeling is his stomach is nausea or gas.

Throughout, the audience has been privy to the fact that the mystery girl seems to spend her free hours sitting in a unfurnished home, sitting next to the phone, and watching a dude she keeps in a sack roll around. Apparently, we're supposed to think this behavior is weirder than the behavior of a dude who invents a fake movie so he can select his future wife from a stack of wactresses' résumés.

Like one does when one meets a mysterious girl whose references don't check out (or maybe they do – we're told early in the film that none of he references connect with real joints – but later in the flick, we watch the widower use them to track her down), the widower conspicuously avoids introducing the girl to his friend or his son. Instead, he decides that their third date will be a beach getaway where he'll pop the question. He takes his would-be bride to a cute little hideaway and they make sweet, stilted love.

Then she disappears in the middle of the night. She's suddenly gone without a trace.

She no longer returns widower's calls and his obsession/appearance of gastrointestinal discomfort gets worse. Eventually he launches on a search for her, using all the leads in the résumé we were told were nonexistent. The widower meets a pervy crippled dance instructor and finds out the owner of the bar that employed mystery girl got brutally slaughtered.

Finally, everything comes to a gory conclusion when the mystery woman shows up at the dude's house to torture him to death for the whole audition ruse thing. Seriously. She thinks that lopping the widower's feet off and sticking needles in him is commensurate with the crime of lying to her.

One could argue that her being a serial killer and not bringing it up is equally dishonest, but Miike seems to actually be on her side. During the interminably un-shocking "climax" of the flick, we find out that the widower also once slept with a woman he works with, but did not pursue the relationship further. This tidbit is apparently supposed to further explain why this dopey son of a bitch gets butchered and treated like a human pincushion.

It seems that repeated incidents of childhood sexual abuse have turned our mystery girl into a highly efficient and knowledgeable amateur torture enthusiast. We are, it seems, meant to equate the widower's stupidity and regrettable, but hardly uncommon, insensitivity with this early exploitation. According to the NYTime's Elvis Mitchell, the flick is about "the objectification of women in Japanese society and the mirror-image horror of retribution it could create." But there's the problem: how is the fact that the widower is a bit of a clod in anyway the "mirror-image" of actions of the girl in the picture? Her gory assault on the widower is so asymmetrical as to seem to come from another movie. The only way it works is with the comic book logic that used to fuel stuff like the old EC titles, where robbing cash is sufficient justification for being eating by cannibals and the like. Only EC delivered this heavy handed "ethical stance" with a knowing smirk that was the honest admission that they understood you'd come for the scares and not the moral edification. Miike wants you to take his juvenile, ham fisted morality play for real.

A literal description of Miike's flick is the best summary: after nearly two hours of fruitless searching, we get a nonsensical bloody mess. Using the unforgiving Stops on the Kryvyi Rih Metrotram Line Movie Rating System, I'm giving this humorless, pretentious lemon a Zarichna. And I doubt it deserves all that.


Heather Santrous said...

I watched this movie before I started my own blog. I have thought about watching it again sometime and posting a review for it but there are so many other movies I have yet to watch so I rather watch them instead of treading over old ground. While I agree with you that this one wasn't all that people hyped it to be, I did think the ending was a bit shocking.

Very often I felt like I was missing something. I couldn't figure out if I was missing something in the translation or if it was something in the culture that I was missing. If you remember, mystery girl suggested this type of thing (using auditions to meet and have sex with women) is pretty common. It is also something I have run across in at least one other j-horror movie, not a fake audition but the director/producer telling the actress she has to sleep with him if she wants to make it in films.

When the widower was looking for mystery girl I was wondering if everything we saw was actually happening. There were scenes that made little sense to me. He sees all kinds of weird things but then just ends up back at his home like nothing really happened. This, and other places, is where I thought maybe I was losing something in the translation.

The j-horror movies don't always work for me just because I know I am missing some thing do to being in a different type of culture. I don't understand everything they are trying to express. So maybe you was being so hard on this one for same reasons? Just a thought.

CRwM said...

You might be right and there might be some sort of cross-cultural misunderstanding going on here, but I don't think so.

In fact, I think this movie's been given a better rep than it deserves of the assumption that, because it has subtitles, there must be levels of meaning and skill that we don't immediately see.

The reason I believe this is because my problems with the movie are problems I've had with bad movies from numerous countries, including my own. I've seen Japanese flicks with well-done characterization (even if the acting styles were not typically "Western"), I've seen Japanese films with sensible plots, I've seen Japanese films with excellent pacing and though provoking themes. I've seen Japanese films use the "did it happen or didn't it" trick really well. This film failed to do all these things.

This is, of course, only my opinion, but I think this flick is a dog in wolf's clothing.