At Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge

Nov. 30 to Dec. 2

The first of Japanese director Takashi Miike’s films to get significant U.S. attention, Audition can be seen as a brutal feminist fable, a tale about the revenge of a man’s guilty conscience, or simply a contemporary urban monster movie. What it is not is the film it appears to be at first: a domestic drama about a widowed Tokyo video-production executive whose teenage son encourages him to remarry. Admittedly lonely but unsure how to proceed, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) turns to his friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), who suggests that they audition actresses for a film that’s unlikely to be made. Before the aspirants even begin—in a montage of ploys that range from brazen sexuality to quiet pleas for sympathy—42-year-old Aoyama has already found a résumé that touches his heart: Shy, willowy 24-year-old Asami (fashion model Eihi Shiina) abandoned ballet because of an injury and writes that she “feel[s] like a dead person.” Aoyama asks the demure, always white-clad Asami to dinner, and she seems pleased by his attention. Yet when Aoyama proposes, she suddenly disappears. In his search for her, Aoyama encounters ominous clues, characters, and visions. At this point, it becomes difficult to separate reality from hallucination. Even if the film’s vivid final sequence merely chronicles a bad dream, however, both its mood and its graphic violence are startling—and certainly not for the squeamish. Miike has directed more than 20 movies since his 1995 debut, and his knack for crafting distinctive variations within the low-budget gangster-flick genre has earned him comparisons to ’60s maverick Suzuki Seijun. Audition was scripted by Daisuke Tengan from a story by Ryu Murakami (writer-director of the kinky Tokyo Decadence), but Miike has a reputation for deviating dramatically from screenplays. What he’s accomplished here is a slip-slide into menacing ambiguity worthy of Nicolas Roeg blowouts such as Eureka: a psychological/societal breakdown in which the only escape from one nightmare is another one. —Mark Jenkins