Audition (Miike, 1999) begins as an almost overly sentimental romantic comedy in which a widower called Shigeharu decides to look for a new wife by auditioning young actresses for a non-existent role in a made-up movie, helped by his film producer friend. Under these false pretenses, he meets the beautiful, but apparently shy and innocent Asami. He instantly falls in love with her. They date for a while and go on a trip away, where Shigeharu plans to propose. But Asami disappears and the film twists from awkward romance, mutating into a neo-noir thriller as Shigeharu turns detective and attempts to find his lover. Unfortunately for him, Asami finds him first, leading to the film’s most (in)famous scene.
At the outset the tone and theme of the film is well disguised and the dubious actions of the male lead are offset by his sympathetic portrayal as a misguided but well-intentioned widower who just needs some help talking to women. Asami is initially presented as an exemplar of the helpless feminine stereotype; shy, polite, quiet and in need of a man’s protection. But, in a stomach churning change of direction, Miike drops the audience into something infinitely darker.
Asami emerges as a fully formed monstrous-feminine, a femme castratice, a woman as beautiful but deadly killer. Miike juxtaposes her innocent looks with her horrific actions to disturb and unsettle the audience; simultaneously enacting the desire to look at her and away from her.
She lures her victims with the promise of sex, and no harm comes to the men until they give into their desire. Asami sleeps with them willingly, but the moment the act is completed, her monstrous intent is released. It’s their physical desire that dooms these men and leads to their symbolic castration as Asami removes their fingers, tongue or feet. And it isn’t coincidental that she keeps one captive hostage in a womb-like sack in her apartment.
Audition is an extremely powerful depiction of the monstrous-feminine and the vagina dentata. And its power is multiplied through its Japanese setting. Japan remains an extremely patriarchal society, in which women are still expected to perform very traditional gender roles. Women and girls are still considered less than men and boys, and powerful women are viewed with fear and suspicion by the male elite (Kincaid, 2014). Miike’s depiction of the perfect Japanese wife as a horrifying monster feeds off this fear, in much the same way as Fritz Lang’s Maria.
Miike ramps up the horror by layering abject imagery through his film. Blood and deformed flesh is a recurring motif and one of the most memorable scenes uses vomit to simultaneously hypnotize and repulse the audience. Tellingly the vomit does not come from one of her victims, but from Asami herself; she is the source of the abject, the unclean, the impure.
Kincaid, C., (2014) Gender Roles of Women in Modern Japan, Japan Powered, Available from: http://www.japanpowered.com/japan-culture/gender-roles-women-modern-japan [Accessed on 18 October 2015]
Miike, T., (1999) Audition, Basara Pictures