This is a pretty notorious Japanese horror film. It’s mostly noted for its extreme depiction of torture at the end of the movie. It’s sensational in the sense of producing a startling effect for sure. But the thing I like most about this film is the fact that director Takashi Miike understood perfectly is that he had to do four things to balance the horrible violence of the end of this film: 1) He had to tell an interesting story from the beginning. 2) He had to take his time doing it. 3) He had to establish motive for both of the main characters’ actions. AND 4) He had to give us just as much suggested violence as actual depicted violence.
The thing I’d like to discuss is his use of WHITE as a color symbol in this film. It’s not a big stretch to interpret why the female shows up wearing white. She is there to audition for the part of this guy’s new wife in his real life. The audience know this, so when we see her in all white, acting very demure…we buy into it as much as the main character does. In Western culture white is a symbol of innocence and purity. We associate it with nurses giving aid, brides on the wedding days, and white candles have religious connections. Snow is pure and white so there’s a link to nature.
However, white also has some negative associations. For example, waving the white flag is a sign of surrender. In our everyday lives, we tend to see things as black or white. In Asian culture, white is also a symbol of Death, as they traditionally wore white at funerals. Miike choosing to put his female antagonist in all white in almost every shot, even when she strips she’s wearing white bra and panties, is a conscious effort to manipulate the audience to sympathize with this character from the beginning when she shows up for the audition – a ridiculous process created by two men in order to choose a new wife from a line-up of women who think they are auditioning for a movie part. So there’s deception from the get go on the part of our male lead. His punishment at the end should come as no surprise. It may be worth mentioning that he is wearing very dark colors from the beginning as well. Not until he is stripped at the end to endure his punishment do we see him as an innocent, naked as a newborn.
It would be difficult to justify the WHY does he deserve this treatment, but there are subtle signs all along the way. And the real reason, for me anyway, is very Greek-Tragedy in essences…he makes a promise he cannot keep. Breaking oaths in the Greek culture was tantamount to telling the Gods to go screw themselves, especially Zeus, the god of oath keeping (which is also a joke as he cheated on his wife every chance he got). It didn’t turn out well for Jason and Medea! The man promises the woman that he will love only her…forgetting in the moment, I guess, that he has a son…and a dog whom she kills. Add to that he says in the film, “Even if she causes trouble…I can handle it.” Kind of full of hubris there and the gods never like that.
Miike spends much of the film showing us bits and pieces of the trauma that created the woman. We see her motivation. This movie reminds me of Hostel (2005) in several ways. There’s the extreme violence, for sure, but there’s also the cautionary tale…in Hostel it’s “Be careful who you sleep with when you’re backpacking through Europe!” and in Audition it’s “Asian woman may seem exotic and demure, but there are consequences for exploiting them.” And oh yeah…white may not mean what you think it means!