Most people know Audition by its ending. That's partly because the ending is so horrific that it's impossible to forget, but also because the film's unconventional storyline defies audience expectations. It is a shocking film that has been named as a top-5 favorite by director Danny Boyle. Director Eli Roth uses it to tell whether or not someone really is a horror fan.
Audition addresses the patriarchal Japanese society in which women are treated as second-class citizens. It appeared late in a 1990s wave of similar rape/revenge films. Asami's mutilations of the male body are a subversion of these films' traditional image of the broken female body.
The beginning sets up with a lot of foreshadowing. Aoyama fishes with his son, Shigehiku. That's an expression that is often used as a metaphor for seeking a romantic partner, and just in case the viewer doesn't make the connection, they come out and talk about it. Aoyama remarks that he's "only after the big ones," and catches a fish that is larger than what the two can handle. Shigehiku points out that this species is hermaphroditic, but the ovaries show that this particular one is female. Aoyama's response illustrates his fatal flaw: "I don't know much about ovaries." The table scraps they feed their dog are presumably the ovaries. Later, the maid tells Aoyama to put the laundry in the hamper. By the end of this film, the viewer will never look at a laundry bag the same way again.
Seven years have passed since the death of Aoyama's wife, Ryoko. Aoyama's son suggests that Aoyama is unhappy and should remarry, because when you're alone you get crazy and do stupid things. Wait...wrong movie. Aoyama's friend Yoshikawa states that "all Japanese are lonely," and Miike explores isolation here in a way similar to the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Aoyama quickly shows why he's lonely, as he seems oblivious to an attractive female employee's attempts to gain his attention and doesn't notice that Rie, his housekeeper, also throws herself at him. He really doesn't know much about ovaries, and he's going to need help. Film producer Yoshikawa proposes that they hold a movie audition. The role will call for a woman of the talents and age that Aoyama seeks, and Aoyama can attend the audition to see who tickles his fancy. Aoyama has reservations, but is assured that it's not a total scam, because they have a good script that really might get made into a movie.
An application that Aoyama spills tea on catches his eye. This blemished paper is Asami's application, and Aoyama's mind is already made up. He has no questions for the auditioners until Asami enters the room, when he babbles. Aoyama can relate to the line from her essay that tells how a hip injury forced her to quit dancing and that it was like accepting death when her dream died. Yosikawa is uncomfortable with Asami, but Aoyama is so smitten that he ignores such glaring neon-red flags as that the man she claimed was her agent has actually been missing for a year.
The film is divided into three acts. The first part establishes the main characters and the premise. It plays out like a gloomy romance, sweet but sad and off-kilter. It is devoid of cynicism and is very sincere, but there is a deep sense of fatalism around the whole thing. At around the forty-minute mark, dark storm clouds gather. None of Asami's references check out, and she spends her days staring at her phone in an unfurnished room, accompanied only by something in a laundry bag.
Aoyama takes Asami for a weekend away. He babbles about the local attractions they can visit, even as she disrobes in front of him. Man, this guy doesn't know much about ovaries. She reveals a body covered in scars, and repeats "love me...only me" in case he didn't hear it the first five times. She disappears after they make love, and he can't find her. He doesn't know where she lives, and nobody knows her.
Forget about those dark storm clouds in the last third of the movie. It doesn't rain where you're going. As Aoyama investigates Asami's past, he uncovers a trail of weirdos and abusers, and those left living aren't walking very well. All of the men in Asami's life have been much older than her, around...huh, around Aoyama's age, and all have treated her horribly. We learn about Asami's background just as she shows up in his house, where she injects him with an immobilizing drug. There will be no detail given about the ending, as nobody should watch this with any knowledge of what's to come. Suffice it to say that Asami is a serial mutilator with a practiced technique, a deep toolbag and plenty of time to operate.
You shouldn't read the following if you haven't seen the film
Aoyama is considered to be a relatively innocent victim. He was willing to go along with the audition scam, but he was looking for a wife, so his intentions were honorable, right? That depends. Married women can easily be treated as property in a society that oppresses women. Indications here are that Aoyama isn't as sweet a guy as we've been led to believe. His flashbacks reveal that the employee and housekeeper he ignores are actually women with whom he had sex a single time and then discarded.
Asami's backstory is revealed through Aoyama's flashbacks, so the latter third of the film has a strong element of the unreliable narrator. It is however very likely that what we see at the end is the true story, and that what we saw in the first hour was Aoyama's sanitized, deceitful version. Asami sees through the audition scam and regards it not as a search for a marriage partner, but for a sexual partner. She's probably right. We've been seeing things from Aoyama's point of view, and he's playing innocent. For all we know, none of this happened, and Aoyama killed her at the hotel where she disappeared. Note Yoshikawa's suspicion: "people don't just disappear."
Yosikawa is suspicious that a seemingly perfect woman like Asami "fell into our trap." Asami, however, is not disappointed at the news that the movie won't be made, because she never expected to get the lead role. If she didn't expect to get the role, why did she audition? It seems that the real trap was set by Asami. Does Aoyama ignore Yoshikawa's warnings, or does he have a death wish? He was attracted to Asami because her dreams died and she accepted death. Maybe Aoyama has felt the same way since Ryoko died, and he's really looking for someone who will finish him off. When Aoyama spoke at the audition of accepting death, Asami knew that she had found her next victim.
This represents the film's most subversive move of all: the movie is not only a gender reversal of the imagery of the rape/revenge film, but it turns the whole "she was asking for it" excuse on its ear. Aoyama was asking for it. He tells Asami, "I've been looking for someone like you," and one of Asami's other victims tells her ,"You're wonderful," as she beheads him. It's as though to say that, in a society where people live in isolation from one another, a fatal attraction is better than no attraction at all.
Connections: Asami getting thrown all the way down the stairs is imitated in Mutant Girls Club.