Films That Make You Go Hmmm…

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Takashi Miike’s Audition.

I don’t mean for this to become a horror movie blog, but I guess it’s sort of heading that way, isn’t it? Probably it seems weird that a person who writes fantasy and young-adult, contemporary retellings of Romantic Era novels would be into horror films, but I am. I always have been, as long as I can remember. I read fantasy and I watch horror (well, horror and anything animated). And I just saw a horror film people assured me would seriously mess me up. It didn’t. What it did do was make me think. A lot. And after reading up on other people’s interpretations, I’ve finally come to a place where I think I just might get this film.

AuditionThe film in question is Takashi Miike’s Audition. My immediate reaction after seeing it was to discuss it with The Other Lamm, look up other people’s interpretations online, and then discuss it some more. I felt very strongly that there was more to it than The Other Lamm’s mostly literal interpretation. There seemed to be so many subtle and not-so-subtle hints that we were dealing with an unreliable narrator. I was damn near sure virtually none of the third act actually happened outside Aoyama’s head, and much of the first two acts were colored by his skewed perception of reality.

One of the very first detailed interpretations I read not only agreed with my initial response to the film, but identified the film’s heavy use of symbols and changed how much of the “dream sequences” I took at face value. For example, I believed the dream-assistant when she suggested she had slept with Aoyama one time and that, while it was a mistake, she had expected more from the relationship. My reason for taking this at face value was the scenes in the first act in which the same assistant talks about her impending marriage as though she wants Aoyama to stop her. And because I took the dream-assistant’s admission at face value, I also took Aoyama’s implied sexual relationship with his son’s girlfriend at face value. I now feel very differently.

There are three main ideas that are pivotal to my interpretation:

1. This story is told from an unreliable perspective. We’re seeing events through the eyes of a man who’s decidedly out of touch with reality. The evidence for this is pretty plentiful. He has several conversations throughout the film, and we see each one occur multiple times, but every time one occurs we find it’s changed. His memories of past events are shifting. Also, he knows things he shouldn’t know, like the way Asami’s apartment looks and the sack she keeps, which shows up in Aoyama’s delusions as well as the “reality” portion of the film. But he’s never been to her apartment, so why is he imagining it exactly as it is? The answer, of course, must be that he’s never seen her apartment and so neither have we (the audience). We’ve just been shown what he imagines in both instances.

2. I’m convinced this is a story about the “Madonna–whore complex.” Aoyama sees women as objects. He holds an audition for his new wife, compares looking for her to buying a car, and when his son walks in on him looking through their head shots, he reacts as though he’s just been caught looking at pornography. Asami is dressed only in white when Aoyama sees her as his ideal. She’s shy, submissive, and “obedient” (which is another indication Aoyama is not seeing the real Asami: he cannot possibly know whether she is obedient without having ordered her to do anything, but that doesn’t stop him from repeatedly insisting she is). She is absolutely, one-hundred percent pure—extra virgin even. Then he finds out about her abuse. And shock shock, he blames the victim. He imagines her allowing and then enjoying her abuse. He imagines her abuser as another victim. To him, there’s no way a good girl could have gone through what she went through. She’s damaged. And since a woman can only be one of two things to him, she goes from perfect to monstrous. Not only that, but all the women he knows turn into sexual deviants in his mind, which is why he dreams about them all aggressively molesting him. After his initial disillusionment, we see Asami wearing other colors: first a red coat, and finally black leather. But this isn’t the only instance in which color is used to indicate a dichotomy. All throughout the film, scenes are set in bright red against pure white. And while black might be the obvious opposite to white, red is the color of passion, of desire, rage, sexual maturity, blood, etc.

3. My third idea is not one I saw in the other interpretations, but I think there’s a very real case for it. That is, I think this film is meant to be incredibly meta. I don’t think this is just a story about one man’s misogyny and how he deals with the cognitive dissonance it creates. I think this is a story about art, about the portrayal of women in film. I think that’s the reason the casting call repeatedly mentions becoming a heroine and Asami talks about becoming a real heroine at the hotel. The director is examining our quintessential heroine, delving into the dichotomy much of society tries to impose upon women, both in the real world and in art. This is a self-examination, and that’s what makes it brilliant. Art that examines art in such a way that doesn’t call attention to its purpose is definitely doing it right.

If you read this post despite the spoilers and haven’t yet seen the film, I recommend seeing it, especially if you’re one of those people who loves to find meaning in story-puzzles. You won’t be disappointed… that is unless you’ve seen the god-awful trailers and are expecting straight-up torture porn. So you know, this film probably won’t shock you, it won’t mess you up (especially if you’re familiar with the horror genre), and you won’t be hanging on the edge of your seat (at least not through the first two acts). You may get a bit squeamish in parts, but that’s all. What this film will do is make you think. And think. And think… I get the feeling there’s so much more to Audition that I haven’t even examined, so many different possible interpretations, and so many uncovered clues. This was just my brief analysis of an incredibly complex film after the first viewing.