Today, the search for love goes terribly wrong in Audition (1999).
I know people generally hate it when Japanese movies get American remakes, but Audition is a rare case where something kind of fun could've been done with an Americanized version of it, since the set-up of the film is very much like a Hollywood love story, albeit one with a serious slant, a dark edge and damaged characters.
The main character is Shigeharu Aoyama, who has been a single father to his son Shigehiko ever since his wife passed away seven years ago. When his son comments that Shigeharu is starting to get old and should consider getting remarried, the man realizes how intensely lonely he actually is.
The problem is, Shigeharu doesn't want to have to deal with dating around, he doesn't want to risk failing in a relationship at this point in his life. He wishes he could meet as many girls as possible, observe them and learn who they are, and then pick the ideal one from the group. When he says this to a friend who works in the film industry with him, the friend comes up with an idea - they should hold an audition. Create a fake movie project with a lead female who has aspects of Shigeharu's ideal woman in her character, and then see who comes in for the role. I know that same scheme is at the center of at least one sex comedy.
Women interested in auditioning send in a picture, résumé, and essay, and from those Shigeharu picks thirty applicants to have audition in person. His interest is piqued by one essay in particular, written by a young girl named Asami Yamazaki, who has the sort of skills that he's looking for (he wanted someone who was a pianist and/or dancer, this girl plays piano and studied classical ballet for twelve years) and a tearjerker of a story. Her hips were damaged, killing her dreams of being a professional dancer, ruining the life she had envisioned for herself. She says accepting that her dream was over was like accepting death.
Shigeharu is deeply impressed by Asami's writing, and likes her even more when she comes in for the audition. He has found the girl he wants to get to know. Even though his friend gets a strange vibe from her, they can't get in contact with anyone who knows her, and the bar she said she works in doesn't seem to exist, Shigeharu soon calls her to meet up and begins cultivating a personal connection between them.
The first indication we get that something is definitely not right here is when Shigeharu calls Asami for the second time. We see that she's kneeling on the floor near the phone, head down, a stuffed sack in the background. When the phone starts ringing, Asami smiles... and with a gurgling groan, something within the sack lurches, rolling into the wall.
What the hell was that? It was the reveal that Audition is a sneak attack of a horror movie.
Things go well between Shigeharu and Asami, things move fast. She is shy and emotionally troubled, and is happy to have found a man who's warmhearted, who accepts her and takes the time to try to understand who she truly is. Shigeharu promises her that he will love her, and only her. That's when it all goes bad.
Shigeharu gradually learns that Asami has a very dark and twisted history, full of torture, abuse, mutilation, and murder. Oddly, he learns a lot of this information through a flashback/dream sequence after downing a spiked drink. He sees scenes from Asami's past play out as if he was in the room witnessing them at the time. It's like the trip through Freddy Krueger's mind at the end of Freddy's Dead, but no 3-D glasses required.
Asami shows up at Shigeharu's house and drugs him with something that immobilizes him but keeps the nerves awake so he can still feel pain as she goes to work on him with needles and wire that can saw through flesh and bone. She wants him to feel agonizing pain to teach him who he really is, to punish him for holding the auditions, which she believes he used to solicit sex from multiple applicants, to punish him for lying to her about loving only her. When she said she wanted him to love only her, she wasn't just looking for a vow of monogamy, she doesn't want to share his heart with anyone in his life, not even his son.
As Asami shoves her needles into Shigeharu's flesh, she repeatedly says "Kitty, kitty", which the subtitles tell me is Japanese for "Deeper, deeper", but I saw an interview with Takashi Miike wherein he said that she was saying "Kitty, kitty" in English because the words had a good sound. It is oddly effective the way she says it, very memorable.
The climactic torture sequence is where a U.S. remake could really shine, if it was cast right. Think if an American version had been made in the early 2000s, starring maybe Tom Hanks in the Shigeharu role, and as Asami Reese Witherspoon or someone who has acted in a comparable number of lighthearted love stories. These familiar, trusted faces could lull an unsuspecting audience into a comfortable romantic comedy place, then suddenly Witherspoon is hacking off Hanks's foot. It'd be amusing, if nothing else.
Those silly and potentially blasphemous thoughts aside, Takashi Miike's Audition is a very good film with a great third act. The only problem I have with it is that it's a little too long, taking 115 minutes to tell a story that could've been told in a running time 15 to 20 minutes shorter. Overly slow pacing and overly long running times is an issue I often have with Japanese movies, but that's definitely not a deal breaker with Audition. Its slow build does have a hell of a payoff.
"Someday you'll feel that life is wonderful."