Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Scariest Characters in Cinema #22 - Asami Yamazaki
I debated whether or not to include Audition on this list. It's a film I don't have a lot of affection for, one of a particular brand of horror films that have cropped up over the last ten or so years that emphasize pain and degradation over imagination and atmosphere. The common categorization of "torture porn" isn't totally accurate, as some of the films that could be called torture porn (especially Eli Roth's Hostel movies) do possess a certain twisted humor and affection for the genre. It's more the breed of misanthropic horror that is only about endurance, proving to your friends how much disturbing shit you can take (sort of the cinematic equivalent of Warheads). It's worse when horror fans attempt to defend these movies on a subtextual level - while horror is often rich with social commentary, in these films it feels like a pretense to justify an empty experience.
I have no doubt that, in Audition, director Takashi Miike meant for the torture middle-aged widow Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) endures at the hands of the mysterious, sadistic Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), to be some form of comeuppance for his earlier objectification of the woman in his search for a new wife. But I think it's also fair to say that Shigeharu's punishment far outweighs his crime, which makes it hard to take Audition seriously as a commentary on gender politics. While it's suggested that Asami may be damaged by traumatic experiences in her youth, none of it really explains where the movie ends up. She's just a crazy bitch - I won't accuse Miike of flat-out misogyny, but if he is truly concerned about sexism in contemporary Japan, Audition is a weird way to show it.
On the other hand, I can't deny that it's a very frightening, effective movie. The last 20 minutes are almost impossible to watch, at one point teasing us with the possibility of an exit before plunging us back into the nightmare. Miike, whose other films mostly seem like the work of a hyperactive, antisocial 9-year-old scribbling grotesque revenge fantasies in his Trapper Keeper, demonstrates a surprising mastery of sustained tension here. I admire the banality of the first 30 minutes, gradually developing a sense that something is deeply wrong, until the brilliant "bag scene." Shiina is beautiful, which makes for a disturbing contrast with her sadism - I still get chills when I think of her softly chanting "kiri kiri kiri" (a Japanese onomatopoeia for "pain"). And she's creepiest at the very end, after so much ugliness, as she clearly still adores poor Shigeharu. Ain't love grand?