Sunday, January 10

Some quick thoughts on Audition (1999) on Blu-ray

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Takashi Miike's Audition missed an official premiere in the last decade by just a few months. Though if this seminal Eastern eyeopener had seen first projector's light in the '00s; del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) would be off my prior decade's Top 10, every selection bumped down one position, and Laugier's Martyrs dethroned. It's a watershed horror film that rode the crest of the rediscovery of extreme cinema to come flooding from Japan and introduced madman Miike to the world. At the same time, the film's marketing, ever featuring actress Eihi Shiina with syringe and menacing rubber garb, hurts the peripheral nervous system beat down hidden within. It's really no surprise anymore; the image on the left has become synonymous with J-horror much like Ringu's modern onryō and Hideshi Hino's horrifying manga.

Miike has an uncanny ability of tailoring his directorial style to given material. This allows the director to be amazingly prolific and diverse in his cannon while maintaining a distinctive flare. With Audition, Miike crafts one of his tamest films from the learned, textured perspective (or so he thought) of a well-off middle-aged business man (Ryo Ishibashi) longing to end lingering loneliness after his wife's death. Before Asami unfurls her dastardly instruments, the proceedings take on that of a drama that can be seen as agreeable to well-off middle-aged business men. Ryo Ishibashi (Aoyama) is perfect as a competent professional caught up in a lust he hasn't felt in years. Eihi Shiina (Asami) is also well, perfect as the quiet archetype of Japanese female obediency. The little mysteries surrounding Asami make the film's later hallucinatory tortures even more psyche-shattering. Essentially a very Japanese take on Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction with a (fictional?) worst case scenario that reaches far beyond a crazy bitch Glenn Close welding a knife. Audition comments upon the prevailing loneliness in the Japanese populous, yet offers not solace, but instead replaces all the piss and vigor of the dating scene with long needles and taunt piano wire.

A great write-up on the subtle nature of the latter half of the film can be seen here over at Freddy in Space. That entry inspired this viewing after not seeing Miike's classic in years and I agree with Johnny's assessment. The open-endedness of the conclusion is what makes the film rise above it's otherwise straight forward delivery into its highly memorable status. As for this recently released Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, the 1080p image quality is the subject of some mild controversy. The color cast of the feature appears to have been normalized, so instead of the warm "golden" appearance seen on previous DVDs, these new DVD and Blu-ray tenth anniversary releases have a more natural color tone. Further evidence of this change can be seen in the so-so grain structure having a bit of fleeting strange color mixed in throughout. It's a hard to describe, but nonetheless the transfer is certainly the best Audition has ever looked on home video. Even with the high def image having some minor damage and cue marks (the source being an internegative, or third generation from the original negative), the prior non-anamorphic Chimera and interlaced Lionsgate DVDs can't compare at all and it also easily bests the best standard def presentation in Tartan's British DVD. It looks pleasing at 52", but I imagine those with large projection screens will be less impressed.

The lossless Japanese Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks sound crystal clear and highlight Kôji Endô's often unnoticed but angelic score. The extras feature a commentary track with Miike and Daisuke Tengan, new interviews with Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi, and Ren Osugi, international trailers, and small booklet by Midnight Eye editor and Agitator: The Cinema Of Takashi Miike author Tom Mes. Oddly, the interviews and trailers are featured on a second DVD disc, despite even a 25GB Blu-ray disc having the capacity to fit everything. This release isn't quite definitive on any terms, and Miike maniacs will want all three stateside releases for all available extra material, but it's nice to see Audition arrive on a decent looking Blu-ray well before anyone figured.
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