Miike Takashi - Audition (2000)

[audition] Audition is sweet. Bittersweet, but sweet the same, not a love story so much as a story about love. It is, essentially, a man-meets-girl story (Mark and Isolde sans Tristan; happy as a Katakuri), told (unlike Stereo Future) stereoscopically, so as to seem both a Danielle Steele novel directed by the hard working men and women of ADT (or some college kids who've rigged a tripod out of textbooks, and therefore don't want to move their camera any more than they have to) and some Spanish Tragedy cum Stephen King that'd make John Webster walk outta the theater (you only get to see one set of bubbies, and then you're left hanging for, like, ever).

Ishibashi Ryo plays Aoyama Shigeru, a widower who's looking (at his just-beginning-to-date son's suggestion) to remarry, but smart enough to be wary of the dating scene. Yoshikawa (Kunimura Jun), a friend of his from the movie business, suggests (over cocktails; it makes the whole development somehow more organic, to say nothing of the way salarymen use liquor like a get out of jail free card) that they put out a casting call for a faux role, not so Aoyama can marry an actress—"they're out of your league," Yoshikawa tells him—but so he can date the kind of girl who could (but never will) be an actress: pretty, smart, talented, trained up and (most importantly) with a career that's never gonna go anywhere.

The feminist objections are easy to see, but hard to make, as most of the movie from here on out is suffused with a guilt-laden melancholy. Aoyama himself has had reservations even before we cut to him sober and realize he's gonna go through with it. But Yoshikawa brings him a stack of girls' CVs and advises him to "not trust the pictures; look at the essays instead"; advice that quickly becomes his own get out of jail free card when he reads an essay by former ballerina Yamazaki Asami (played by model Shiina Eihi), describing her career-ending injury and recovery. Absolution is two-fold: injury, not marriage, ended her career, and (as she herself claims) it was like death when it happened; if she can survive death, she can survive anything.

The actual audition (a typical time lapse montage) is a mere formality; Aoyama's just waiting for Yamazaki to walk in, and spends what was supposed to be time spent reading lines praising her strength and stoicism, eyes and shoulders and aeorta and every other cell that comprises every other fiber of his body bent towards her. The diegetically dictated happens: they date, love blooms, Yamizaki remarks "I'm glad I didn't get the part, because I got you," and the audience winks and elbows one another in the triceps, cuz Audition, like ogres and wedding cakes, has layers.

But we're soon led to believe that maybe Yamazaki couldn't survive, that it was a life-ending career-ending accident, that she's the snow demon outta Kaidan, that her love is truly forever only if over. That she's a ghost. Also that she's a bad girl, because she lied on her résumé, and because she refuses to let Aoyama come visit her at the (presumably) hostess bar where she works, and because the bad-girl-friendly Yoshikawa starts warning Aoyama off her. Being a ghost is probably worse; bad girls can throw a collar around Rick Moranis, but they won't never turn him into a dog.

The stereoscopic presentation of plot kicks in (into overdrive, anyway; there were some what-evil-lurks cut-ins earlier on, telephones ringing ominously and burlap sacks thumping, again, ominously, to keep you watching and wakeful and, um, ominously) after their relationship is consummated. They go away for the weekend, some seaside ryokan or some such, sleep together, Aoyama waking up the next morning, alone. Heartbroken and driven, he follows Tyler Durdern's ticket stubs, writing Yamazaki's real résumé in the process, with some favors from Yoshikawa. We learn she carved up some guy in the bar where she supposedly worked while dating Aoyama, that has in actuality been long closed; that the cops only found parts of the body (the rest are busy thumping ominously in that burlap sack); that maybe she's dead and a man eater and a soul swallower and Aoyama better be Jack's back, and he better be being watched, cuz a few scenes later his girlfriend's gonna show up at his house, inject him with a syringe-full of something paralysis-inducing, torture him through acupuncture (the whole time equating acupuncture with real medicine, the horror!) then cut off his foot with this wicked sharp garrote, the whole time going "iki iki iki iki" in case he's one those knights who no longer say "ni."

While the film (or so says IMDb) bore the tagline "she always gets a part," it's not the 10% of body weight souveneir she's after, it's the 90% remainder. The part connected to the heart; remember, this is art. And more importantly, it's straight outta Misery. Not the Rob Reiner adaption wherein Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) smashes Paul Sheldon's (James Caan's) ankle with a sledge hammer, but the source novel, wherein Annie Wilkes (an anthropomorphized constellation of typeface) cuts off Paul Sheldon's (another anthropomorphized constellation of typeface) foot with an axe. As she explains it:

"Have you ever heard about the early days at the Kimberly diamond mines, Paul? ... Sometimes, the native workers stole diamonds. They wrapped them in leaves and poked them up their rectums. If they got from the Big Hole without being discovered, they would run. And do you know what the British did to them if they got caught before they could get over Oranjerivier and into Boer country?"

"Killed them I suppose," he said, eyes still closed.

"Oh, no! That would have been like junking an expensive car just because of a broken spring. If they caught them they made sure they could go on working . . . but they also made sure they would never run again. The operation was called hobbling, Paul, and that is what I'm going to do to you. For my own safety . . . and yours as well. Believe me, you need to be protected from yourself. Just remember, a little pain and it will be over. Try to hold that thought."

Misery, pp.220-21

A mere ball-and-chain isn't gonna (no pun intended) hack it. Hell, thHell, this is Japan, wherein Tokyo Narita, wherein golf-club-bag-sized coin lockers, departing from which married men en route to Thailand "where the holes are cheap." As Miike tells it: "It's a story about a girl who has just slightly strange emotions, so it's not impossible to understand her. She just wants the person she loves to stay by her side." But it still is the old ball and chain, proverbially. The prison that is one's wife-for-life, monogamy.

There was this old joke, not really PC that Sartre's No Exit only applied to women and Muslims, that hell for men of any other religion wasn't four other people, but one. One other and only one other until those trumpets start sounding and those once-shut seals start shattering open, and then probably forever after as well, as men of any other religion ain't never getting into heaven, no how. That's the part when people in bars stop laughing and start patting me down. But the belaboured point is that the crosscutting between the two plots ("Happily Ever After" and "Happily Sever After") that could be mistaken for delirium (especially when, in an inversion of Soderbergh's Limey, the dialogue crosscuts while the setting stays static, to haunting effect) are actually the convergence of two presentations of the same story that diverged in that hotel room: a literalist rendition, two people lying in bed talking about their feelings, shot so as to throw Dogme95 a bone (minus meat; blue blue filters), and a literalized representation of emotional states, of doubts and anxieties and guilt.

So let's take Steven Shainberg's 2002 Secretary, first off, then Audition, after. Secretary is the story of Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), recently out of in-patient psychiatric treatment for self-multilation (she likes sticking stuff that's sharp into her thighs) and looking for work. She becomes a serial secretary (the guy doesn't keep 'em for very long, hence there's a series in which she sits) in the law offices of E. Edward Grey (James Spader). Um, the "offices" are his office and her office, and her office is just a desk by the door.

Anyway, Lee can't typr, and Grey decides the best way to teach her to type is to spank her ass raw. She checks it later that night, so we know it's raw. I'm not belabouring this point just to get page hits from perverts; getting her ass spanked raw is, for Lee, an epiphany. A sexual awakening.

Lee and Grey do a lot of kinky-but-never-raunchy stuff, overlaying the power hierarchy of boss/secretary with that of dom/sub. Eventually emotions get involved, and Grey calls it off, firing Lee. Lee leaves crying passing the next sec in the series, in a direct inversion of her original entrance into Grey's office. They didn't even have to reblock the scene; Gyllenhaal takes the first extra's marks, the second extra takes Gyllenhaal's marks, and bam! sin0 to sin2π, things come full cycle, just like that.

Lee tries finding S&M partners through the personals, to no avail, and eventually resorts to a hunger strike in Grey's office. Grey doesn't know, then Grey does know, and Lee is languishing, then Grey comes and picks her up and carries her to his house and feeds her cuz she's hungry and fucks her cuz she's horny but fucks her nice (i.e., under soft lights and orange filters) and it's love, fated instead of fetish, forever and after and happily, too.

You gotta remember what sex (such as it was) was in high school, to get Steven Shainberg's Secretary. Going back and sleeping with a high school girl (or college freshman, which ain't quite as creepy) in your mid-twenties/thirties/etc just ain't the same thing, so I'm told (I'll let you know when I'm etc. years old). Masturbation really bordering on self-mutilation. Boys being pricks not giving back, or girls being stupid weird and not letting them. Stupid demands (those don't necessarily go away) that you're supposed to meet for the privelage of being so-and-so's "secretary," i.e. "girlfriend," cuz the only way to escape falling sharply to one side or other of the line between slut and prude is to have that one long-term boyfriend, to be part of a recognized couple rather than part of a well-known coupling. But, hey, high school's stupid. Stupid stupid. Stupid.

Gyllenhaal had a line cut (she'd refused to say it), where she was to have repeated "I'm stupid. I'm stupid." Replaced with "I'm your secretary. I'm your secretary."

So, then. Secretary is (as ever, amongst other things) about that first jump into intimacy, where physical intimacy probably precedes its emotional counterpart and where, owing to the water behind your ears, is kind of weird and painful and humilating, or ought to be except that it's so exhilirating and fun. Of course watching teenage kids fumbling with each other's belts or bumping foreheads every time they try to kiss wouldn't make much in the way of porn, let alone art, so rather than recapping the events (which if done right would only make an audience nostalgic) we all remember, Shainberg gives us new events intended to elicit the same emotional responses we associate with those memories, avoiding the reverie of nostalgia and getting the audience that exhiliration, for the very first time again. The plot points, they're just a vessel, to communicate an emotional story from its teller to its reader. Orson Scott Card talks about this. Often. It's his thing, like Milton and getting possessed by dead Greek goddesses who only talk to people in blank verse.

Audition isn't about first love, its about final love, not final as in last but final as in finality, knowing something to be last without real confirmation of it. Marriage in this case, but marriage (or any long term partnership) at the best it can be, which is ambivalent to say the least. Aoyama is, literally, haunted by the ghosts of his lover's past (Miike actually manages to make that piece of burlap, and some sound effects, into something scary). He has to give up a part of himself, part of his freedom and, more directly, his mobility. Mechanical mobility is in some ways a metaphor for socio-sexual mobility in the Sever-After storyline, but it's also a direct attack on the one to prevent the other; you can't run, you can't run around.

That last shot of Shiina, lying dead after her assault on Aoyama, speaking lines obviously from the ryokan, is Audition's happy ending. Everybody's hurt, everbody's given something up, everybody's missing something (once-)vital, but everybody has somebody. One short sleep past then ever after, happily, again. Ever after.

( based off a novel by r murakami. )