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One of the most notorious J-horror films ever made, Takashi Miike’s Audition exploded onto the festival circuit at the turn of the century to a chorus of awards and praise. The film would catapult Miike to the international scene and pave the way for such other genre delights as Ichii the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuris.

Recent widower Shigharu Aoyama is advised by his son to find a new wife, agreeing Shigeharu seeks the advice of a colleague having been out of the dating scene for many years. Taking advantage of their position as a film company they stage an audition. Interviewing a series of women, Shigeharu becomes enchanted by Asami, a quiet, 24-year-old woman, who is immediately responsive to his charms. But soon things take a very dark and twisted turn as we find that Asami isn’t what she seems to be…

Pulling the audience into a story that will lead to one of the most harrowing climaxes in cinema history, Miike twists and turns us through delirious editing and shocking visuals for one of the most depraved nightmares of all time!
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


Prior to receiving this Blu-ray I’d only ever seen Audition on broadcast television, in standard-definition. I own the Tartan DVD release but simply never got around to viewing it for one reason or another. I thought it might be worth comparing the DVD to the Blu-ray, so I dug out the former and watched a few scenes, then took a number of screen captures in order to make a comparison.

Truth be told, while the Blu-ray does offer a visual upgrade over the DVD, it’s nowhere near as pronounced as it is with the majority of Arrow’s releases. To be fair Audition is a bit of an ugly film to begin with, but given that Arrow performed its own in-house transfer by scanning an interpositive at 2K I expected slightly better results. The compression isn’t up to the label’s recent high standards and although it could in no way be described as terrible there are some noticeable artefacts here and there as the encode struggles to handle the films gritty aesthetic. It is perhaps telling that the compression wasn’t handled by David McKenzie. Still, it looks better in motion than it does in the static shots below and the rest of the presentation is a marked improvement over the standard-definition edition. Colours appear more accurate (and slightly warmer), contrast is handled better than on DVD, edge enhancement isn’t an issue and the image is cleaner. You’ll still notice the odd frame jump here and there, but these have always been a part of the film.

Putting aside the negative aspects of the release, this is possibly still the best looking version of Audition on home video. Granted I haven’t seen the Shout! Factory release in motion, but I did take a look at some comparison shots and it looks much harsher than Arrow’s release (likely owing to the fact that it was sourced from an internegative, which is a further generation down the quality chain). There’s also a German disc floating around that apparently looks similar to Shout!’s effort, but with better encoding.

Audio


The accompanying Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is understated but effective. Importantly for a film such as this intelligibility is never an issue, as dialogue is rendered clearly throughout. For large portions of the running time the surrounds are employed for simple atmospheric effects such as the sounds of traffic, gentle background chatter in restaurants and the like. However, as the story progresses and events take a darker turn the track comes to life with some decidedly uncomfortable effects, particularly during the climactic sequence. The minimalistic score is both whimsical and eerie, and is just as well prioritised in the mix as the other elements. Technically the track also has a leg up on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray, which only includes a 5.0 mix, but to be totally honest there’s really nothing in the film that makes proper use of the discrete LFE channel. It’s a very effective mix overall and a fine example of the ‘less is more’ principle.

The accompanying English surtitles appear similar, if not identical to the Tartan DVD release. They look to offer a reasonably accurate translation with the usual allowances for things that don’t translate all that well. A good example of this is the infamous ‘kiri kiri’ scene, in which the word is translated as ‘deeper’ when it is in fact a Japanese onomatopoeia for a sharp stabbing pain. Unlike Shout!’s release the subtitles are optional.

Extras


Arrow Video has assembled a fairly healthy collection of bonus material for its release of Audition, a short breakdown of which can be found below.

  • Audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan
  • Brand new commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes examining the film and its source novel
  • Introduction by Miike
  • Ties that Bind: A brand new interview with Takashi Miike
  • Interviews with stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi
  • Damaged Romance: An appreciation by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

While that might not look like much compared to some of the label’s most feature-packed releases, the inclusion of two commentary tracks alone provides almost four hours of content. When you factor in the new Miike interview, archival cast interviews, an interesting new ‘Damaged Romance’ featurette and trailers things start to look far more substantial. I found the featurette particularly enjoyable, as Tony Ryans provides a great deal of background information not only on Audition, but on Miike and the author of the novel upon which the film is based (I didn’t know the author directed the film Tokyo Shock, for example).

Overall


Audition is an odd, but memorable film. The first half plays like any number of romantic dramas, before transitioning into something that looks and feels like a Japanese ghost story. Of course it ultimately morphs into an altogether more sinister type of film, but it’s the slow burning build-up that makes the eventual tonal shift so effective. Seventeen years or so on from its initial release Audition has undoubtedly lost some of its stomach-chrining impact, but ironically this is largely on account of films (or at least film-makers) that draw inspiration from Miike’s work, such as Eli Roth’s body of work (pictures that make Audition look decidedly tame by comparison). Indeed, the prevalence of so-called ‘torture porn’ over the last decade or so has undoubtedly desensitised me to some degree, as scenes that once caused me to wince now leave me largely unmoved. Still, I’m sure a film such as this loses some of its impact with multiple viewings, as there really is nothing like the first time you witness the juxtaposition of the ethereally beautiful Asami whispering ‘kiri kiri kiri’ as she goes about some unorthodox needlework.

Anyway, that’s enough of my half-arsed musings. What about the Blu-ray? Well technically it’s a mixed bag, but that’s not to say it’s unworthy of your attention. While the compression isn’t as good as I’ve been used to from Arrow of late, it’s not terrible (I’ve seen a lot worse from much bigger distributors). When viewed in motion the picture is far more pleasing than the static shots on this page might suggest. As previously mentioned the audio isn’t terribly showy, but it is very effective, with some great atmospherics (both of the mundane and unsettling variety) and strong dialogue rendition. The bonus content isn’t as rich as some of the label’s best releases, but there’s still plenty to get to grips with and most of it is of genuine interest.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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