• Audition (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: February 12th, 2019.
    Directed by: Takashi Miike
    Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shina, Tetsu Sawaki, Miyuki Matsuda, Renji Ishibashi
    Year: 1999
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    Audition – Movie Review:

    Takashi Miike has made some amazingly good films, and he's had a few stinkers too, but regardless of how you feel about the majority of the output from one of Japan's most prolific directors, it's pretty hard to deny the power and the sheer slickness of what is probably his best-known film to date, Audition.

    Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) has recently lost his wife. Now a single father, he spends much of his time at work but one thing is very obvious - he's lonely. Soon though, his son and his co-workers and even his maid all encourage him to start looking for another wife to fill the void left in his life. He's unsure of himself, however, and isn't exactly the type of guy to go out and hit the clubs to pick up chicks. He's rather shy and more than a little awkward around the fairer sex so his friend, a producer at the TV station where he works, comes up with the idea of having an audition - they'll set it up so that the women who come in think they're trying out for a part in a television movie when in reality, they're being checked out as possible hook ups for old Aoyama.

    After suffering through a few girls who show up to strut their stuff, Aoyama becomes instantly smitten with the lovely and rather introverted Asami (the beautiful Eihi Shiina). Her quiet and low-key demeanor appeals to him and she seems genuinely flattered by his attraction and his very positive comments towards her. He thinks he's found the perfect woman for him and the two soon begin dating but once they do, it doesn't take Aoyama very long to find out the hard way that there's something very, very off about Asami, and... well, I can't say anymore without ruining it. Let's just say that this film has one of the best endings to come out of a horror film in a long, long time.

    Miike lets this one build really slowly but once it makes that ninety degree turn and starts spiraling into madness you know you're in for the long haul and everything that came before it starts to make sense. The movie starts off as a romantic drama with heavy soap opera overtones for a reason and that's to sucker-punch you in the lower abdomen when you least expect it. In hindsight though, if you pay very close attention to the way that it all pans out, the signs are there. Clues and subtle hints are dropped throughout the film and while not everything is made one hundred percent crystal clear when the end credits roll, more attentive viewers will be rewarded for their toils. This isn't the type of film you can put on in the background while company is over (nor is it one that you'd want to) - it demands your close and full attention even during the slower moments.

    Taking some visual tips from Davids Cronenberg and Lynch, Audition is not only a masterpiece example in building suspense but it's also a fine-looking film. Hues of red are used throughout the movie to create an atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of Dead Ringers at times, and other colored gels provide lighting effects that bring to mind moments in Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet. Miike's film is uniquely his own, however and while some of the visuals do appear to have been influenced by North American filmmakers, this one is a uniquely Japanese tale. Aoyama's view of the women in his country sets him up for a fall right from the start, and while it's not fair to say that he gets what he deserves, his narrow-minded views and his dishonesty in terms of how he meets Asami in the first place don't speak to kindly of his high moral standing.

    Based on the novel by Ryu Murakami, Audition takes the preconceived notions of the format that a horror film needs to follow and tosses them out the window. It sneaks up on you in the best way possible and twists your brain around its finale whether you want it to or not. At times poetic and sad and at times completely gratuitous and repulsive, it's a strong film that works just as well cerebrally as it does visually and in turns raises as many questions as it answers. We don't learn everything about Asami's background, but we learn enough. We don't learn everything about Aoyama's background or his son's story, but again, we learn enough. While you might have questions about the character motivations in the last half of the movie, it does provide the viewer with enough minutia to allow he or she to come up with their own interpretation of just what exactly is going on. Bordering on the surreal at times, this is one that will get under your skin and stay there.

    Audition – Blu-ray Review:

    Arrow’s transfer of Audition is taken from a ‘brand new 2K restoration of original vault elements’ and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen. The transfer is very strong, showing nice detail and fine color reproduction. Black levels are also very good and the pictures shows nice shadow detail, depth and texture. Skin tones look fine and the image retains a film-like quality throughout, showing no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. Compression artifacts are never a problem and the picture is very clean, showing virtually no print damage at all.

    Audio chores are handled by a Japanese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, with optional English subtitles available. No problems here, the quality of the audio is very strong. There isn’t constant surround activity here but it’s there when the movie calls for it. Dialogue is clean and clear and the subtitles translate it well without any noticeable errors. The track is nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion, demonstrating good range and depth throughout.

    Extras start off with a brand-new commentary by Takashi Miike biographer Tom Mes that does a fine job of exploring how Miike went about adapting the source novel and translating it to the big screen. He points out plenty of details as the film plays out, noting the quality of the performances and the quality of the direction. He talks about the look and sound of the film, as well as the history of the production company that was behind the project. It’s well-informed and interesting, definitely worth a listen.

    Also new to this disc is Ties That Bind, a new interview with Miike that runs just over half an hour in length. Here Miike talks about how this film helped to put him on the map in the film industry, how audiences first reacted to the film when it was initially released, his thoughts on the original novel and some insight into what it was like working with the different cast members that were cast in the picture. Damaged Romance is a new appreciation of the film by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns in which he spends thirty-five-minutes or so breaking down the specifics of what makes this movie so damned effective and memorable.

    There are also some extras on the disc that are carried over from the older Shout! Factory Blu-ray release is a commentary track featuring Takashi Miike, writer Daisuke Tengan and moderator Masato Kobayashi that was recorded in May of 2009. The track is presented in Japanese with forced English subtitles. The three participants, who approach the track with a welcome sense of warmth and humor, discuss the overseas popularity of the film, discuss some of the underlying themes in the picture and of course discuss its production, cast and crew. Miike gives some input on his experiences in the Japanese film industry and how important it was with this picture to control the pacing and generally this gives us a pretty insightful look into how Audition came to be and what it was like making it.

    More vintage extras include interviews with the four principal cast members: a sixteen-minute piece with Ryo Ishibashi, a twenty-minute piece with Eihi Shiina, a twenty-one-minute piece with Renji Ishibashi and a sixteen-minute piece with Ren Osugi. These are fairly interesting and worth checking out as they allow the cast members to elaborate on their characters a bit and discuss their thoughts on the film and on working with one another as well as working with the picture's rather enigmatic director.

    There’s also a quick (1:19) introduction from a very humble Miike who expresses his gratitude towards the film's fanbase, and from Eihi Shina who briefly talks about the movie. Rounding out the extras on the disc are some trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection. As Arrow opted to send a test disc for review, we can't comment on any packaging or inserts as they weren't supplied.

    Audition – The Final Word:

    Audition is still as strong as it was when it first made international waves ten years ago and it remains a highpoint in Miike's ever expanding and erratic filmography. Arrow’s Blu-ray release offers the film in great shape and with an impressive array of extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Audition Blu-ray screen caps!