Darren Watts, along with Steve Long, founded Hero Games. That means he’s the president of the RPG publisher responsible for titles like Champions, Fantasy Hero and Star Hero.
The RPG industry veteran is also one of the authors of Transgressive Horror. The book, a Kickstarter project, is a collection of essays and articles on horror films. Each movie featured breaks the rules.
Geek Native has an exclusive extract from Watts’ contribution to Transgressive Horror, looking at the powerful and shocking Japanese horror Audition. It’s a movie that, if you’re feeling brave, you can rent from Amazon Video for a few bucks right now.
“Words create lies. Pain can be trusted.” – Asami
The important thing to know about Audition (1999, directed by Takashi Miike from a novel by Ryu Murakami) if you haven’t already seen it, is that you should watch it with as little information about it in advance as possible. Knowing that there’s “something to know” is fine and usually unavoidable, but if you’re the sort of horror movie fan who has picked up a book of essays like the one you’re holding now, you’ll be rewarded for taking pains to avoid all spoilers. So stop reading, and go watch Audition. It’s streaming on the internet somewhere right now, I’m sure.
If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you either just watched it (and wasn’t it amazing?), had already seen it, or are the sort of reader who rebels against instructions even when they’re in your best interest. Whatever, I tried.
Audition remains the single most disturbing, unsettling movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. It’s easy to let extensive horror consumption build up armor on your guts, a sort of callus that develops under the friction and pressure of terrifying spectacle. I think that to truly appreciate horror as a genre one must fight that process; the sense of terror itself is what we fans crave, and it gets harder to chase that dragon, to stay open to the rush of getting scared when you’ve “seen it all before.” Audition, when I saw it the first time, slipped by all my internal guards like a master assassin so it could plant its knife directly in my spinal cord.
How? The easy answer is, it cheats. For the first half of the movie, Audition disguises itself as a wistful romance, a story of an older man meeting a younger woman, with trappings of a light comedy but clearly showing a heart of melancholy. The opening scenes are tragic, as our protagonist Aoyama is present at the bedside of his wife Ryoko when she dies. The sad smile on his face when he sees his young son Shigehiko’s school project made for her gives us sympathy for this bereaved man, and we have already begun to root for him as he walks his son home from the hospital. Then we see the reasonably happy domestic life of “seven years later.” Now-teenaged Shigehiko asks his father, “why don’t you get married again?”, with neither noticing that in typical 1990s male fashion they’ve left out all the steps leading up to that.
Aoyama, deeply lonely, considers the question. He and Shigehiko have a married housekeeper who basically fills all the other traditional feminine roles in their lives – apart from the fish they just brought home (and shared with her), she cooks their meals and cleans their apartment. But doesn’t a man need a wife to be complete?
He discusses the idea of re-entering the dating pool as a middle-aged man with his friend Yoshikawa, a filmmaker. They sit in a bar and muse on how hard it is to find the right kind of woman “these days,” while at the same time criticizing a noisy group of women at a nearby table as “crude” and otherwise ignoring the other women there. Yoshikawa comes up with a ploy – the two will hold an audition for a movie, a melodrama featuring a young modern heroine, as a ruse to meet and interview a succession of beautiful actresses and find the perfect wife for Aoyama. Though he’s skeptical of the idea, Aoyama agrees to go along with the game.
At this point all the structures of a romantic comedy (or at least dramedy, as this movie has few actual jokes) are in place. The father will no doubt meet the woman of his dreams and then will have to cover up his scam. She will of course uncover this comical deception and be upset before realizing that she does love the big lug after all, followed by a happy ending (probably in the form of a wedding.) And then Miike begins, ever so slowly, to turn the screws and twist the genre elements out of alignment.
Movies as different as Psycho and From Dusk Til Dawn have performed the genre switch from crime drama to horror, with protagonists on the run and therefore in vulnerable, precarious situations suddenly faced with horrific events that, at least on first viewings come as a surprise to the audience despite cinematic signs that something is awry. Perhaps the closest film to Audition, both in style and success in manipulating of the rare audience seeing it for the first time unspoiled, might be another Hitchcock film, The Birds. For the first third of its length the latter seems to be a romance drama, complete with a spoiled socialite, a meet-cute sequence in a pet shop, and then the female romantic lead meeting his overbearing mother. All this set-up, of course, goes marvelously nowhere once the supernatural avian mayhem begins and the audience promptly forgets about it.
© Darren Watts.
Darren Watts’ writing credits also include the Fifth Doctor supplement for Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space: The Roleplaying Game.
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