This horror masterpiece has no sign of horror for the first hour

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Audition by Takashi Miike is conceived as a romantic melodrama about a widower in search of love. Then about an hour later it takes a very, very dark turn.

Horror filmmakers usually want to start their film with a big scare to hook audiences from the start. Jaws opens with Chrissie Watkins devoured by a giant shark in the middle of the night. Halloween opens with six-year-old Michael Myers killing his big sister. It opens with Georgie being eaten alive by a Pennywise living in the sewers.

These openings can work wonderfully, but horror movies with a more patient pace can be even more effective. The more a filmmaker forces his audience to wait for a gain, the greater this gain will be (if the gain is worth it). Alfred Hitchcock waits until the middle of psychopath turn an embezzlement film noir into a murder horror film. Ridley Scott didn’t introduce the titular star beast until halfway through Extraterrestrial. One film that has masterfully pulled off this kind of genre bait is that of Takashi Miike. Hearing.


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Bernard Herrmann’s tense string orchestrations in psychopath and Jerry Goldsmith’s otherworldly soundscape in Extraterrestrial (and the appearance of the facehugger) tell audiences they’re watching a horror movie, even though the first big scare doesn’t come until halfway through. Which makes Hearing so subversive is that there is really no suggestion that audiences watch a horror movie until about an hour after the performance begins. The story is initially conceived as a romantic melodrama about a widower in search of love at the insistence of his son. It doesn’t come across as a horror movie until halfway through, when it takes a very, very dark turn. From there it’s a thrill ride from the edge of your seat.

Aoyama interviews Asami during an audition

Miike is a controversial figure in Japanese cinema, but a widely celebrated visionary in world cinema. His cinematic portraits of horrific violence and sexual perversions are difficult to say the least, but films like Ichi the killer and Western Django Sukiyaki are unique and bizarre gems that have captivated audiences worldwide. Hearing is widely regarded as the director’s best work and one of the greatest horror films ever made.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Ryū Murakami, Hearing tells the story of a widower named Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) whose son tells him he should return to the dating scene and seek a new love. Aoyama calls on his movie producer friend and they organize a casting under the guise of a new film project so he can find his soul mate. The interview questions are meant to be role-related, but it’s really so that Aoyama can get to know them and identify her perfect match. If it didn’t have Miike’s crisp framing and editing, it could be a lifetime movie.

Aoyama in a restaurant in Audition

Aoyama falls head over heels in love with a young woman named Asami (Eihi Shiina), who returns him the same level of affection. It’s so perfect it looks like a fairy tale. Miike hints that she isn’t what she seems when her references turn out to be wrong, but he’s too infatuated to care and still pursues a relationship with her. The first indication that this is a horror movie comes when Aoyama enthusiastically calls out Asami and the audience sees the call from his perspective.

For four full days since the hearing, Asami has sat in the exact same spot in her empty apartment, waiting for the phone to ring. When it finally rings, she claims that she didn’t expect Aoyama to call. This mysterious obsession is disturbing enough, but Miike adds an icing on the cake: someone trapped in a sack, presumably Asami’s ex-boyfriend, squirms around the apartment in agony, incapable to get out.

Asami's apartment at Audition

Obviously, Asami is not as sweet as she initially was. As his dark story begins to unfold, Aoyama surprisingly realizes that he is already too deep and that she is dangerously obsessed with him. The genius of the initial setup is that it’s somewhat difficult to empathize with Aoyama. He finds out that he was cheated on by Asami, but he cheated on her first. He is being manipulated in a relationship by the very person he is manipulating in a relationship. This feeds into the film’s themes of overthrowing the patriarchy, at a time when women were becoming more independent in Japanese culture, and it leads to the film’s infamous finale.

If a horror filmmaker has been successful enough to master their climaxing terror, they can really take their time to capitalize on it. At Tobe Hooper The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface takes Sally’s friends in the first act, then chases her through the woods in the dark in the second. Once he captures her and his worst fears come true in the dinner scene of Act 3, Hooper stretches the elastic as far as he can, realizing all the disturbing or horrible things that could be happening at that table. . For an uninterrupted 20-minute track from Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, Sally is strapped to a chair and forced to enjoy a meal of raw human flesh surrounded by a murderous family all wearing human skin clothing. Since Hooper handled the buildup so well, the elastic holds up throughout the dinner streak that makes your stomach fart.

The same thing happens in Hearing when Aoyama finally realizes the danger he finds himself in and Asami’s sinister plan comes true. Miike prolongs the climaxing terror for so long that it becomes almost unbearable. The melodramatic build-up might seem slow back then, but it’s worth it for the gain.

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