Audition Takashi Miike (Jap 2000) Rijo Ishibashi. Eihi Shiina
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 19 May 2011; ticket: £5.00
Cherry Blossom Time
“The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from the epoch’s judgements about itself. The surface-level expressions…provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things.” ( S.Kracauer, the Mass Ornament)
Takashi Miike’s (TM) Audition is a film stylishly but not particularly well made or shot that lacks even internal coherence. But it is remarkable in its unrelenting expression of one controlling idea that gives it shape force and relevance: the abandonment of history. Specifically the abandonment by the Japanese of their cultural legacy.
Item: in his wooing of Asami, Shigeharu dines her in the sort of high class anodyne restaurant that could be located anyplace in the world. As she responds to his personal questions what we are most acutely aware of is not so much her reply rather the crashing sound of the passing traffic outside. The pervasive white noise of the 21st century Japan threatens to drown even personal history.
From the film’s opening sequence in which Shigeharu’s wife dies in hospital hooked up to high technology, through all the establishing domestic and work locations we see a culture that looks and feels Anonymous/First World/American. Shigeharu’s home could be in suburban Boston: the offices, the streets, clothes shoes and food eaten are all replicated American forms. Japan as a culture has been obliterated: Japan is become transposed USA. The scored musical soundtrack is sometimes strange but although there are subtle hints of the pentatonic scale, it is characterised in the main by Western diatonic harmony. There is nothing in main establishing settings in which Audition is located that that even hints at cultural historical or eidetic memory. That is until Asami attends the audition.
In setting up the audition Shigeharu talks to his friend about Japan who comments that all Japan is lonely; Japan comprises only of lonely people. This society exists in aloneness. As Audition develops it seems that this comment probes deeper and beyond reference to the networks of lateral ties that interweave relationships and create couples families and groups. The deeper significance of the comment is that Japanese individuals have become detached from the culture that previously defined them and was part of their identity. They have become people without roots to anchor their individualities into the social matrix. They are lonely because they are incomplete: they have no past, only an eternally renewing present. Loneliness is a psychic state endemic in those without a past, knowledge and belief in which psychically validates both the present and the future. If there is no past who can have belief in the future which flows from the past, a time that itself was once itself the future of a preceding present. Without the past vital interconnections are severed in the social matrix conditioning a persistent and default state of anxiety about identity and neurotic existential loneliness.
Without a past there are no Japanese. There are mutated replicants condemned to live out an eternal present without meaning.
Audition’s idea is given expressive mediation through the opposition of Shigeharu and Asami: the male and the female who stand structurally opposed in their reactions to the dilemma of their deracinated culture.
Shigeharu’s solution to the problem of ’no wife situaion’ (loneliness) is to search for form without content. (a quest also undertaken by Western men and women who look to foreign cultures to find spouses) Shigeharu wants to be a tourist in his own country free to gaze upon images of the other without understanding. For an audience ballet is form without content but for the performer it is form with personal meaning: pain. Shigeharu solution to his loneliness is to create a two dimensional simulacrum of the traditional characteristic cultural traits and to locate a personal reality on this surface as if it had depth. Asami’s ideas are quite different.
Our first impression of Asami from her resume are that she embodies traditional Japanese traits and this impression is confirmed when we see her walk into the audition room as a physical statement of Japanese female ideal. A long white dress suggesting a kimono; immaculate long brushed black hair; submissive presence.
Asami of course does not have the resources to resurrect the culture from which she is cut adrift. She is aware that the surviving elements of her cultural legacy are only forms retained as a phantom acknowledgement of the past but without substance. Asami’s solution to this dilemma is different from Shigeharu’s: she does not want to denigrate the past by resurrecting it in the form of a cheap advertising image.
Asami’s idea is to relocate the past, the legacy of Japan, on and in the body. In actions of desperate psychic resonance she displaces the history of her society onto the body in the form of pain and mutilation. The logic that is at work is psychotic but it has a rationale. The past and images of the past cannot be bought and sold cheaply. There must be protection of these things and Asami is the gatekeeper. If Shigeharu desires contentless simulacrum of the past, it cannot be without a price. It can only be had at personal cost to him. He cannot have Asami and all her image represents except on her terms. He will have to pay with his body and perhaps his life. As he experiences fear pain and mutilation at her hands he will have to understand that his desires are being satisfied but in a manner he did not anticipate. The message from Asami is that these things are not to be played with like toys. They are real forces. Audition is ultimately about something real.
Audition looks like a typical Asian torture porn movie. But as Kracauer observes it is precisely in its surface level expressions that it expresses a deeper and more disturbing vision of contemporary Japan.