Audition ★★★★★

Prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike is known to stir up controversy with his film's graphic content, and this is perhaps his most disturbing. Yet, at the same time, it is tame and slow-paced compared to something like Ichi the Killer (2001). But it quickly descends into gruesome, grotesque madness; the final act will exhaust even the strongest stomachs. Although, what some might mistake for tasteless, torture-porn violence is nothing of the sort. Miike's patient plotting and tender treatment of his tortured characters hints at the ultimate terrors in store for us.

A middle-aged widower, Aoyama, decides to conduct an audition to find his ideal women. He is immediately smitten by Asami Yamazaki, she is quiet and mysterious. Aoyama's friend, Yoshikawa, worries that she isn't what she seems, but Aoyama sees her as his ideal woman and quickly falls in love. But as he gets closer to her, her disturbing past reveals itself with her tortured layers. Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina's chemistry is crucial to the film's effectiveness. Ishibashi is touching in his role as an aging, lonely man blinded by brash affection. Which then allows Shiina to steal the show and brand herself in ours minds with her performance as a woman who makes unpredictable sound like an understatement.

Two viewings and the mysteries of this film are still driving me mad. There are strong fantasy elements, the story plays as if we are seeing it through the vastly different mindsets of Aoyama and Asami. What first is shown as a tender love affair quickly alters to strange encounters with horrifying undertones. Miike creates a strangely surreal atmosphere surrounding his two characters, there is often a hazy, dream-like feeling in the air. It all is preparation for the twisted, profoundly unforgettable finale that is simultaneously revolting and engrossing.

An experience for all varieties of tastes. That isn't to say it is for everyone because it sure as hell isn't. But Miike is a one of the most daring directors working today, and this is among his strongest and most thought-provoking films. It is a daring character study, a terrifying horror story, and a experimental drama touching upon various themes - love, identity, gender, and the creation of insanity.