Audition (18)

Review by Simon Bell

SO, WHEN fortysomething Shigeharu Aoyama, owner of a Tokyo-based video production company, is forced to cope with the death of his young wife, what does he do?

On the suggestion of his son to remarry, he seeks the advice of his friend and colleague Yoskikawa who reminds him of a now-forgotten film project and moots the idea of organising casting sessions for the female lead in order to select a befitting better half.

At said audition, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi in a very measured turn) is then struck dumb by the melancholy beauty of the all-white clad submissive seraph, Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina).

After settling on the 24-year-old ex-dancer (and wrestling briefly with initial pangs of sudden guilt) Aoyama and would-be leading lady meet for coffee. So far, so Nora Ephron. But don't be deceived by its delicate pseudo romcom exposition. For what soon becomes apparent will have you petitioning for a dose of David Cronenberg just to restore a modicum of good taste.

The first of his films to be released commercially in the UK, controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike presents a touch of the Grand Guignol in the art movie form. Working from the bedrock of a solid and balanced narrative, the film's tone reverberates to the dramatic transition of Asami from docile cherub to crazed harpy. Indeed, it's the very pornographic nature of the later torture sequences that have drawn such stern tut-tutting from the conservative press.

But contrary to the reservations of Alexander Walker, et al, it's the gothic morbidity of the piece that makes it so utterly compelling.

Not the ideal date movie, but one for the gore hounds. (And watch out for the sack).