Please note the film review segment of this review is identical to that found in my review of the non collector's edition R0 Tartan release here. I have also provided a comparison with the noc collector's edition R0 UK Tartan release.
From one of Japan's top directors Takeshi Miike comes a film that has been shocking audiences throughout the art house circuits around the world for well over a year now. Having finally received a UK DVD release courtesy of Tartan Video last year you can now also find a German DVD release via Rapid Eye Movies so those who are unfortunate enough to not live in the vicinity of a decent art house cinema can finally experience another of the many superb Horror films to have come from Japan in recent years. Sadly Audition is a film that really deserves to be seen with the viewer holding the minimal of knowledge regarding the films plot and more importantly the images you see within, not an easy feat with the proliferation of film spoilers that are found on the Internet these days. With that in mind this review features a minimal selection of images that have been carefully chosen unlike those featured on the Tartan DVD Cover (and sadly the Rapid Eye Movies release suffers the same fate) where they have obviously gone for images that will pull in the more casual Horror Movie fan although to be fair the Theatrical Trailer contains all of these images and more. Keeping with the spoiler free state of mind my description of the film will be minimal (which is more than I can say for the almost complete story rundown on the back of the Tartan DVD Cover) but hopefully effective.
After the death of his wife Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi who you may have seen in Takeshi Kitano's Brother) is left with the responsibility of raising his son. Seven years pass and Shigeharu's son is now a young man and rather cheekily suggests that his Dad should find a new wife, as he is getting old. This is a suggestion that Shigeharu decides to act upon and after a discussion with a friend who is in the film business said friend suggests they set up a fake audition where Shigeharu can choose a prospective partner. While it is not the most honourable of methods Shigeharu goes ahead with the idea and in the process becomes captivated with Asami (Eihi Shiina in a stunning debut performance), a young girl with whom he strikes up a relatively natural relationship that eventually spirals towards a whole new direction for the films final reel.
Audition succeeds by drawing the audience in using a traditional tale of romance with mere hints as to what lies beneath the characters. It is the structure and masterful direction from Miike that really allows Audition to work as not only does he offer us glimpses at the horror that will eventually be unveiled (to quite terrifying effect) but he uses some wonderfully clever yet subtle editing techniques during the many conversations between Shigeharu and Asami that suggests we are not being told the entire story, but more importantly that Shigeharu is not taking on board everything he is learning about Asami. Of course not all the credit can go to the director as without the superb screenplay, the fine cast and most importantly for a horror film, an evocative original score from composer Koji Endo Audition would not be all it is.
For anyone who has seen a selection of Japanese films (especially Takeshi Kitano titles) then you will no doubt know what to expect as far as the films pacing is concerned. Many would say Audition is slow while others will see it as a delicately paced film that through the superb story and acting performances skilfully uses touches of black humour as it builds up the tension to near bursting point levels whereupon it finally rips into your chest and keeps a tight hold right up until the final credits roll. This is a thoroughly engrossing film that has a pure intensity that can truly disturb the viewer to a point I have not witnessed in a long time and then on subsequent viewings you can draw out more of its subtleties that only heighten the films impact.
While Audition will surely not appease the insatiable desires of the teen hack and slash horror markets it will certainly appeal to those looking for a film that is not only more intelligently written and directed but ultimately intensely horrifying. My final words that sum up the film for those who have seen Audition are simply "kiri, kiri, kiri..."
The disc under scrutiny here is one of four DVDs from a relatively new German publisher Rapid Eye Movies that contains English subtitles. They pride themselves in releasing Uncut Asian movies but unfortunately this lands them with a German FSK-18 certificate which makes them hard to find through the larger online German retailers.
You can however purchase them at a number of online stores (Charmes.de is one such place) or direct via Rapid Eye Movies.
Please note that despite being labelled as a Region 2 disc this release is actually Region 0.
Rapid Eye Movies have provided us with an Anamorphic Widescreen transfer that maintains the films original 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio and to say it is a revelation in terms of quality over the Tartan effort would be an understatement! The print sourced for this German DVD is completely devoid of any scratches or dust and is also free of burnt in subtitles and while this is an improvement in itself what really pleases is the general improvement in detail and colour reproduction. For instance, the Tartan DVD is overly dark which leads to many scenes being left devoid of background detail (and even foreground detail) whereas here the scenes are generally brighter without being detrimental to the contrast of the image. Instead we get the perfect colour balance for this film that allows for every scene to look as it was meant to and also for the detail in scenes such as Aoyama's cluttered office and the bustling streets of Japan to shine through while the early sequences with Aoyama and his friend in a bar are almost from another film!
Other areas of improvement can be found with the general image stability whereby the Tartan release saw an extreme level of film grain prevalent throughout the film and while this Rapid Eye Movies release is not devoid of such issues (in fact grain is still fairly high but it now looks more natural and inline with how the film was meant to be viewed) it improves upon them greatly and makes for a far more enjoyable viewing experience. The only other minor problem noticeable on both releases (although again it is reduced on the Rapid Eye disc) is some aliasing on the blinds seen in Aoyama's office.
Below are some sample screen grabs from both discs so you can see for yourself the difference in presentation and why exactly I had to rethink my original appraisal and scoring of the Tartan release.
Like the Tartan release this disc offers the original Japanese soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Unlike the Tartan release the Audio experience offered by this Rapid Eye Movies release is greatly improved by the simple fact that it features no audible hiss and is instead a fine, albeit stereo, representation of the films original audio with music, sound effects and dialogue all reproduced admirably. Another huge advantage this disc has over the Tartan release is that of removable subtitles that Rapid Eye Movies have provided in both English and German languages, with two separate streams for each language, one that sits inside the picture image and one that (for those of you with 4:3 Television sets) sits within the black border. Pleasingly the English subtitles feature no spelling or grammatical errors and although the choice of font is a break from the norm it is still perfectly acceptable (if maybe a little large and needing a slightly thicker outline).
Menu & Extras
As you might expect this being a German release the discs menus are also in the German language. Fret not though as even for someone who knows not a single word of German you will get through them unscathed as it is all self-explanatory. As for the design, well its a simple but effective Animated Menu system that plays music from the films superb score although it does also play some video clips that I would consider to be spoilers so for anyone who has not seen the film before - just cover your eyes and point the remote and press the 'Enter' button blindly at the screen!
From the main menu you can move on to the 'Extras' section which contains a Takashi Miike Biography, Filmography and Interview all of which are text based and in German so with the exception of the Filmography (where only the incidental information is not all that clear) they will be of little use to non-German speakers. The 'Bilder' option takes you to a section that includes the original Audition Poster Art, four photographs from the set of Audition, and the poster artwork for another Rapid Eye Movies Miike release Dead or Alive (that sadly does not feature English subtitles). The final option in this 'Extras' section is a Trailer gallery that includes sneak peaks at other Japanese films available now and forthcoming from Rapid Eye Movies. Presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen are the trailers for the insane looking Japanese zombie movie Wild Zero, the equally strange looking Pornostar and Electric Dragon while Takeshi Miike's Dead or Alive Trailer is given the Anamorphic Widescreen treatment.
Moving back to the main menu you will find another 'Trailers' section that contains both the International and Original Japanese Trailers for Audition in Non-Anamorphic and Anamorphic Widescreen respectively (the Japanese trailer also features burnt in English subtitles).
The Tartan release offers some alternative extra features but the only one of any worth is the 14-minute video interview with Takashi Miike which although interesting falls short of expectations. The other extra features include film and star Filmographies (in English), Chris Campion film notes, the same two Theatrical Trailers as seen on the Rapid Eye Movies release and a selection of other Tartan release trailers, so nothing that makes up for its failings in the audio/visual department.
Audition offers an alternative look into the world of horror and is masterfully directed by Miike who has already established himself with this and other titles coming soon to DVD. In terms of deciding which DVD release of Audition to purchase then there simply is no contest between the two with this new Rapid Eye Movies release winning hands down purely because of the superior film presentation.
Update: Since this review Tartan have re-released Audition as a "Collector's Edition" which sports a virtually identical transfer to this Rapid Eye Movies release.