Photo credit: David Martínez
Although I’ve seen Takashi Miike’s 1999 film adaptation of Audition numerous times, it was only recently that I read Ryu Murakami’s equally memorable 1997 novel. With Miike’s images burnt into memory, it was difficult at first to not see the movie unfold as I read the narrative. However, I kept asking myself, What if I were encountering this story for the first time, never having seen the film? What occurred to me straightaway was the elegiac quality of the portrayal of Aoyama and his son Shige, which is off-set by the facetiousness of the premise, specifically holding an audition—under the pretense of casting a movie—in order to find a widowed father a new wife. I describe the premise as facetious for the simple reason that it sounds like the set-up for a romantic comedy.
What unfolds in the books twelve chapters, however, is anything but comic. As Murakami hints as the audition plan is made, Aoyama “had no way of knowing the unspeakable horrors that awaited him.” Even before the auditions begin, Aoyama becomes immediately enchanted with Yamasaki Asami, twenty-four, whose résumé spoke of a broken dream of becoming a ballerina. Aoyama’s infatuation is reinforced upon seeing Asami in person at her audition, which compels him to start a relationship with her under the false reason of discussing her future as an actress. What becomes apparent early on is that Aoyama’s fascination with Asami is turning into a love-blind obsession. So much so that he’s deaf to the doubts that his friend Yoshikawa has about this young woman, who he sees as casting a spell over Aoyama.
What’s most impressive about Murakami’s portrayal of the demons that are created through childhood abuse is the way in which Yamasaki Asami’s character is carefully revealed through subtle expressions, both in word and body, as she lures Aoyama deeper into the labyrinth of emotional turmoil that dwells beneath her calm and obviously beautiful façade. “She’s like smoke,” observes Kai, a former geisha and owner of the East Nakano restaurant where Aoyama has just had a date with his enchantress, “you think you’re seeing her clearly enough, but when you reach for her there’s nothing there.”
At one level Audition is a horror-suspense story and many readers will turn to its pages for the shock value, especially its well-known and infamous torture scene. At another level the book is about the misguided quest of a forty-two year old widow for love and companionship. At the same time the concept of the audition and its consequence for its protagonist is a searing critique of male attitudes toward women in Japanese society. In the latter context, Asami is not so much a “monster” as she is a victim, a survivor of emotional and physical assault, whose calm and elegant demeanor belie a life of inner-torment and unhealed psychological wounds, which have shaped her relationship with men, including the unsuspecting Aoyama. In the end, it goes without saying that there are significant differences between the Ryu Murakami’s book and Takashi Miike’s film, which I won’t go through the trouble of outlining here for the simple reason that the reader should enjoy these, some of which are surprising, for him- or herself. Having said that, I will say this much, when the reader gets to the torture scene, it’s nothing like the one in the movie version, yet I can assure you that it’s no less memorable than the one enacted by Eihi Shiina. When Asami says “Can’t move, can you?” it will still send a shiver down your spine.