Reviews

Audition: Collector's Edition

“I’d be so happy if people enjoy this movie—it was made ten years ago…this is the new edition. You may regret watching it, though.” -- Takashi Miike, director of Audition


Audition

Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Rated: not rated
Year: 1999
US DVD release date: 2009-10-06

Considered a masterpiece of J-Horror, Audition takes place in patriarchal Japan where men are dominant, yet the film turns the tables in a particularly savage way—enough to shake even the most hardcore feminist. Audition has a low-key beginning; the first few scenes feature the widower Aoyama and his 17-year-old son Shigehiko living a quiet, peaceful existence. As his son prepares to leave the nest, he encourages Aoyama to marry again.

As a director, Miike tips his hand early and he’s brilliantly efficient—-in a two minute scene at Aoyama’s small company, we learn much about the protagonist and his world. As Aoyama sits down with his video editor, the two men watch film of Japanese youth at a rave. The video editor says, “They’re pretty much the same... lonely people. Happy people wouldn’t go to that kind of concert. All Japanese are lonely”.

As Aoyama leaves the office, his secretary follows him out to the elevator:

Secretary: “I’m going to get married soon.”

Aoyama: “Really…to whom?”

Secretary: “To someone you don’t know.”

Aoyama: (he hesitates, then bows slightly) “Well, congratulations.”

Aoyama steps into the elevator, the doors close and the camera lingers on the secretary in close-up. She’s emotionally devastated. In this brief, painful scene, everything about their relationship is revealed: this woman was used and discarded by Aoyama.

Aoyama meets his friend Yoshikawa for drinks and mentions his desire to marry again. Yoshikawa, a film producer, asks Aoyama about his ideal woman, then suggests a phony audition. Yoshikawa arranges a casting call for ‘the part’ described by Aoyama. The casting call is soon advertised on the radio as “Tomorrow’s Heroine”.

The following scene--an audition of 30 Japanese women for a phony part--is a comic tour-de-force, as Yoshikawa and Aoyama meet and question the hopeful women--some serious, others woefully inept, and a few who seem genuinely crazy. Yet one stands apart from the rest: Asami, clad in white, is a beautiful and elegant young woman who glides rather than walks, gestures with a dancer’s grace, and speaks with a musical voice. Aoyama is absolutely enchanted by her.

But Yoshikawa, a man of the world and more resistant to feminine charm, warns Aoyama at the outset:

Aoyama: “What do think of Asami?”

Yoshikawa: “She makes me nervous. She makes me want to smoke a cigarette.”

As the film progresses, Yoshikawa acts as a one man Greek chorus, with his frequent warnings about the mysterious Asami. “We can’t find any of her references,” Yoshikawa tells Aoyama soon after the audition.

None of this matters. Aoyama is love-struck and pursues Asami with dogged earnestness. And now the film turns dark--for the viewer, like Yoshikawa, senses there’s something wrong with Asami: she’s lovely to look at, yet there’s a cold reserve in her knowing smile. And as the courtship progresses, Asami is always dressed in white, and one is left with a peculiar impression--that the likable Aoyama is in way-over-his-head, that he’s in love with something spectral, a ghost, maybe a succubus.

In a chilling scene, Aoyama has a dream where he’s on a dinner date with Asami. He turns around and his dead wife, Ryoko, is seated at the next table.

Aoyama: “Ryoko, there’s someone I want you to meet. This is Asami.”

Ryoko: “No, Aoyama…she is not good for you…no.”

This warning from beyond the grave goes unheeded. More is revealed about the mysterious Asami: abused as a child, she’s now quite adept with piano wire--particularly with those who ‘betray’ her. In one scene, Asami decapitates her stepfather with the grace of a murderous ballerina.

In Audition's notorious climax, Asami sneaks into Aoyama’s home and spikes his whiskey. As Aoyama falls paralyzed to the floor, Asami emerges clad in a black latex apron and gloves. The helpless Aoyama finally glimpses Asami’s true nature: lethally beautiful and positively demonic. Asami sings sweetly to him as she tortures Aoyama with needles and dismembers him with piano wire.

For critics looking for political allegory, Audition may be interpreted in one of two ways: as deliberately misogynist or subversively feminist. Miike denies any kind of political statement in the film. Yet in the first half of Audition, women are depicted in exclusively submissive roles: Aoyama’s secretary (and rejected lover), Yoshikawa’s personal assistant and coffee gofer, Aoyama’s maid. Even Shigehiko’s girlfriend, on a visit to Aoyama’s home, offers to cook dinner.

But with the arrival of the murderous Asami, the rigid Japanese social order is turned upside-down. Whether intentional or not, this turnabout packs a peculiar wallop.

The collector’s edition includes a bonus disc with cast interviews, and remarkable insight is provided by Eihi Shiina, the actress who plays Asami. A model by profession, Shiina provides the perfect analysis of a sociopath: “Asami cannot imagine the world of her victims, that they have their own lives, complete with people who love them.”

The seduction of the intelligent Aoyama by the beautiful Asami with her musical voice and cold smile is quite frightening. Asami is hyper-feminine yet totally detached from the human condition--a lioness who loves to toy with her kill. And that makes Audition a terrifying and unforgettable film.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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