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Joshua Chaplinsky's picture Posted by Joshua Chaplinsky


"Audition" by Ryu Murakami
Joshua Chaplinsky
East meets West as the basis for the cult Japanese film finally discovers America.

It's been ten years since a young Japanese maverick named Takashi Miike took America by quiet storm with a vicious little gut-punch called Audition. A simple tale of obsession coupled with a subtle commentary on the objectification of women, the film is a slow burn that ends in a powder keg of violence. Over a decade and fifty (!) films later, Miike still hasn't topped the masterpiece that helped usher him into the Western consciousness. 

But what about the book it was based on? Audition, by Japanese novelist Ryu Murakami, was not published in English until 2009, and even then, only in the UK. Meanwhile, contemporaries such as Koushun Takami and Koji Suzuki saw their books made available to American audiences following the success of corresponding film adaptations. A number of Murakami's earlier works had already achieved some recognition in the states, so where the hell was Audition? Whatever the reason for the delay, the book is at long last making its way to American soil. Soil that will soon be soaked with the blood of innocents.

The innocents in question are Aoyama, a widowed documentary producer living the bachelor life, and Shige, his affable teenage son. Shige is a sensitive young man and encourages dear old Dad to get back on the scene and start dating again. Instead of doing it the old-fashioned way, Aoyama organizes a fake audition in an effort to fast track his search for the perfect woman. Surprisingly, his morally questionable methods are a huge success. He meets and falls for a shy ballerina, and against the better judgment of his friends, jumps into the deep end of love with both feet. That's when he discovers that this insecure young woman has some big ass baggage.

I'm always curious about how much influence a translator has on the tone of a novel. As translated into English, Murakami's prose is direct and to the point. There are no flowery descriptions and the action is very matter of fact. There is almost no style to speak of. Is this a byproduct of the translation? The story itself is disarmingly mundane, perhaps to lull the reader into a false sense of "this won't end in a fucking shit-storm," which it does. Said tactic is moderately effective, and seems to work in conjunction with the books style, or lack thereof.

Of course, it is hard to discuss Audition without referencing Miike's adaptation. As faithful as the film is, it one-ups the source material in its Lynchian blurring of reality. Whereas events in the novel are pretty straight-forward, certain scenes in the film are open to interpretation. Are they dreams? Hallucinations? Red herrings? Are they Asami's warped view of events? Either way, they add a welcome layer of depth to the books simplistic narrative.

Both the novel and the film are brutally violent, but Miike's violence is much more inventive, and the lack of needles in the novel was sorely missed. It was interesting to see the climactic confrontation play out another way, but Miike wins this round by decision.

Overall, Audition ain't a bad little read, it just pales in comparison to the film. The visual experience is a much more visceral one, and the flat tone of the novel can't compete with the level of tension on the screen. For all their similarities, there is a huge emotional expanse separating the two, and the emotion is what makes the film so much more satisfying.