Good horror movies scare you silly and make you jumpy when you walk back to your car afterwards. Great movies wiggle under your skin and incubate there, bursting forth to infiltrate your nightmares for months to come. In this rareified zone rest classics like 'Alien,' 'The Exorcist' and Takashi Miike's 'Audition.'
I'm going to tread lightly on the story of 'Audition,' because if you haven't seen it, or know little-to-nothing about it, then spoiling it should be punishable by death. I'll just run down a little of the story, then talk about why this movie has every right to be inducted on everyone's Scariest Movies of All Time lists.
Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a lonely widower. Prompted by his teenage son (Tetsu Sawaki), and aided by his friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), he devises an ingenious scheme to find himself a mate: he'll audition (get it?) a series of women under the auspices of a television show that doesn't actually exist. It fits his emotionally guarded lifestyle - he can learn all about them while having to reveal nothing about himself.
Soon he finds someone worthy of his affections: Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). She's quiet, gorgeous, and the two of them have a storybook romance - looking into each others' eyes, talking long walks on the beach, all that stuff people put in their online personal ads.
For about an hour or so the movie goes along like this. Sure, the relationship may have been built on a somewhat creepy lie, but the couple's affection can't be faked. And it's just a fairly straightforward romantic drama, enjoyable in its own right.
Then things take a turn for the worse, when love becomes obsession and then something altogether more terrifying.
The second half of the movie goes to some truly shocking places, and saying any more about it would be criminal. The agility with which the movie turns is really something though, and even as you squirm in your seat, you can't help but admire the storytelling grace that Miike brings to the movie. It was released in 1999, at the height of the Japanese horror invasion, but this movie remains apart, based largely on its narrative prowess, haunting imagery and subtle feminist subtext.
Other, western directors have tried this approach in the years since 'Audition's' debut, the most successful being Eli Roth, who structured his 'Hostel' based on 'Audition.' Miike even makes a brief appearance in that film. Miike has made a whole host of movies in the years since 'Audition,' dabbling in virtually every genre, but 'Audition' remains his best film.
If you've never seen 'Audition,' you're in for a shock. Everyone else knows this is a powerful and provocative film that artfully transcends the horror genre while remaining one of the scarier movies in recent memory. It's one of those rare scary film that wriggles under your skin, even if you've seen it a dozen times.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This 'Audition' special edition is a two-disc set. The first disc is a 25GB Blu-ray disc. The second disc is a DVD disc. Lame. Another lame feature: that the English subtitles on the disc cannot be turned off. I've tried. They're not burned in, but there's no way to disengage them either. If you speak Japanese, you're stuck with them, unfortunately. This disc is Region "A" locked.
If only the video were as good as the film. The disc's MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) is a mixed bag at best, but it's more disappointing than anything else.
Let's begin with some good aspects of this transfer. Notably, skin tones look solid, black levels are deep and dark, details (in skin, clothing, and textures) are greatly improved, and while the movie has an extremely subtle color palette, when color does pop up, it really does pop.
Now the bad: almost everything else. This transfer is riddled with technical hiccups. It goes beyond the abundant grain (I'm pretty forgiving on this side of things, but there is far too much grain here, especially for such a recent movie) and occasional haziness (which is intermittent enough to be mistaken for an artistic choice). There's a lot of edge enhancement and artifacts that are annoying and noticeable. Additionally, there are moments of crush, with moderate-to-heavy ringing around certain objects. Overall, this adds to an incredibly disappointing viewing experience.
While this is undoubtedly an improvement over previous home video releases, the detriments negate the enhancements, leaving a transfer that you can't enjoy much, which is a real shame considering the quality of the film.
Faring much better is the disc's lossless Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 mix. Much like the rest of the film, you can break the film down into two halves. The first half is more dialogue focused. The dialogue is crisp and clear and well prioritized. There are moments of subtle surround sound and ambiance, but nothing overwhelming.
With the second half of the movie, the surround sound mix pumps up the ambiance. As the movie's dread continues to build, so does the surround mix here, becoming more dynamic and atmospheric. Sound effects have a certain amount of punch, and overall this mix is the best that the movie has ever sounded.
While this isn't a reference quality mix (it is only 5.0 after all), it does add a certain amount of oomph to the movie, making a creepy movie sound and feel even creepier.
Additionally, there's a similarly impressive Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.0 lossless mix as well as an English: LPCM 2.0 mix. As I said before, there are English subtitles that aren't burned in but cannot be turned off.
All the extras on this disc were on the special edition DVD that was released around the same time. In fact, considering that the second disc in this set is a DVD, it wouldn't surprise me if the second disc is the same as the one in the DVD set!
'Audition' is a modern day genre classic, elegantly weaving a tale of extreme terror from some very unlikely places. Unfortunately Shout Factory's disc, with its mediocre video, solid enough audio, and nice collection of special features, is something of a disappointment. Still, the features and the great audio mix, as well as the excellence of the film, are enough to recommend this title. If you're a fan of foreign films, horror films, or just quality films, and you see this marked down someplace, it's kind of a no brainer purchase. Otherwise, it's worth weighing your options.