Audition is fairly widely regarded as one of the most disturbing Japanese horror films, if not simply one of the most disturbing horror films, worldwide. And that is a valid statement. Directed by Japanese horror maestro Takashi Miike, the movie is horrific and in many places incredibly hard to watch. Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does. When you think things are finally going to get better for the protagonist, they don’t. Given that, it seems like a weird movie to even remotely be considered a comedy.
Yet the elements are there. The premise of the picture, first and foremost, is absurd. It’s about a man who has had trouble getting back into the swing of things after the death of his wife. He’s decided its time to move on but has a very hard time meeting and talking to new women. So his friend convinces him to put together a film with the sole purpose of meeting a woman in the audition process. It sounds much more like a wacky romantic comedy than a horror film. That’s one of the most intriguing things about it. The movie is a sweet, almost sentimental (albeit somewhat seemingly misogynistic in the first act) story until things taken an abrupt and very dark turn. Aoyama makes an immediate connection with the quiet, reserved Asami, so he chooses her for his movie—again with the simple hope of getting to know her and eventually making her his wife. Their interactions are not unlike what one might expect to see in any Meg Ryan movie. Except of course for the fact that Asami is a complete and total psychopath.
She tortures and kills men, she keeps a man chained up in her house and only feeds him her vomit. She wants to be the only thing in Aoyama’s life and that means murdering his teenage son. Her torture of Aoyama in the movie’s third act is infamous and rightfully so, given that it is almost impossible to watch. Her actions are absolutely horrific, but they don’t necessarily mean that the movie loses its sense of humor once these aspects come into play. Instead, the picture’s sense of humor simply becomes more perverse. It goes from a sweet comedy to an incredibly dark one. It starts off as a comedic film about awkwardness, meeting new people and misunderstandings. Then, by the end, it’s about the absurdity of the situation and laughing at just how bad things get and how horrible everything turns out.
The violence and the shock value present in Audition are terrifying. It’s a movie that most people aren’t going to laugh at. In fact, most people don’t make much of any sound the first time they watch it unless they’re begging for it to be turned off. But that does not mean the humor isn’t there. The gore goes to extreme lengths. So extreme, in fact, that it almost has to be humorous on some level. It’s not as far as something like The Human Centipede, where it’s impossible to take the story seriously at all. That’s not the point here. There are genuine themes present in Audition and we are led to care about the characters. Speaking to the dark humor in the feature does not undercut the serious attitudes and character development. The two things are not mutually exclusive.
Where Audition excels as a dark comedy is in playing up its absurdity and its heightened reality. As dark as it may be, there are moments of fourth wall breaking and even extended dream sequences and cut-aways that are much more commonly seen in comedies than horror pictures. While the character arc and story are pretty straightforward, there are brief moments throughout of questioning what is actually real and what isn’t. Some parts just feel like an incredibly messed up sitcom. The early dates and the way in which they meet are full of comical moments and misunderstandings between the characters. In some ways the torture that takes place at the end is just one more misunderstanding, as an extension of that.
Audition is nonetheless debated, with some people saying the movie is incredibly grim and disturbing and some people saying it’s offbeat and funny. The reason for the debate is that both parties are right. These different aspects are all clearly a part of the movie and that is what makes it so endearing. It’s Grand-Guignol theatre for the twenty-first century. Gory, absurdist, surreal; basically it’s a movie that has everything.