Audition by Ryū Murakami

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 5 minutes

Regarded as a ‘psycho-sexual thriller, Audition (オーディション) focuses more on the horror, and less on the development.

The story opens with Aoyama, a 42-year-old documentary filmmaker living in Tokyo. Quickly, we learn about the death of his wife Ryoko, from cancer seven years prior, and his teenage son Shige. We’re also introduced to Aoyama’s best friend Yoshikawa, who along with Shige, believe Aoyama will be better off if he got re-married.

People were infected with the concept that happiness was something outside themselves, and a new and powerful form of loneliness was born.

Ryū Murakami, Chapter 1

Holding an Audition

Yoshikawa thinks the best way to do this would be to have an audition for an upcoming film, which they may, or most probably will not make. This will allow Aoyama to sample a wide birth of ‘talent’ all catered to his desires.

Although this tactic teeters on the edge of morals, it’s an interesting development. It’s a shame that the audition is never fully fleshed-out as Aoyama immediately falls for Yamasaki before they even begin. In this case, anything that happens elsewhere during the auditions is meaningless cannon-fodder as we already know who he’ll ultimately go after.

Consequently, Aoyama begins meeting, and then dating his dream girl – Yamasaki. She, a 24-year-old shy goddess, hangs to Aoyama’s every word (Red Flag #1). While conversing, Aoyama discovers that Yamasaki previously trained as a ballerina but had to give it up due to a severe hip injury. This convinces him that due to her classical training she, therefore, has a high level of intelligence. I’m not sure where he gets these ideas from but hey, each to their own.

Where Has Your Mentor Gone?

It’s worth noting a sub-plot that is brought up in Yamasaki’s interview, in which she mentions her mentor, Shibata-san. He is a boss at a music company known as Victor.

Audition by Ryu Murakami Book Review - Harvey Weinstein
It turns out Shibata was a womaniser, using his position of power to force women into bed with him. Remind you of anyone?

It’s played out at this point as a bit of a mystery, but it quickly points back to Yasami.

After a bit of digging, Yoshikawa finds out Shibata died one and a half years ago. This prompts him to ask, how does Yamasaki not know this?

Aoyama tries defending her with his blind love, but Yoshikawa is still unsure.

Childhood Trauma

Furthermore, he uncovers her past, particularly how she has a long history of childhood abuse at the hands of her step-father. In response to this, he has convinced himself that she has transformed this hurt into love, thus making her ideal marriage material (Red Flag #2).

During the first two-thirds of this book, we’re stuck in the drama related workings of Aoyama’s life. Dealing with both sides; death and now love, Aoyama’s feelings for Yamasaki begin to flourish, with talks of marriage on the horizon. There are elements of detail within Aoyama’s life, as well as looking into his psychology, especially concerning that of relationships. Mostly these are between himself, his son, and Yamasaki.

At the two-thirds crossroads, Aoyama and Yamasaki go away to a weekend retreat to consummate their relationship.

During this getaway lovemaking, Aoyama passes out mid-session, only to wake up several hours later realising he’s been drugged. Again, he convinces himself that Yamasaki did this because of a misunderstanding between the two of them. Was it the mentioning of Shige? Was it talk of his past wife, Ryoko? (Red Flag #3). The only clue is a note scrawled on a pad next to the bed, which reads ‘No forgiveness for lies.’

Still feeling she is the one for him, Aoyama begins searching for Yamasaki but with no luck. And then…

Stop Searching…

Two months later, while at home alone, Aoyama is attacked. It’s here that the book shifts from a placid story of ‘man wants wife’ into a gory splatter-fest of Asian horror.

The style of prose at times can be non-existent, which I suppose could be a style all on its own. This also lends to the end of the book, making the final twist even more horrifying.

… and You Will Find

Yamasaki breaks into Aoyama’s house and seemingly spikes his drink, causing him to slump into the sofa. It’s at this moment that she appears, with the same blank expression that she’s worn throughout most of the book.

Upon bringing in the family dog, who’s also being heavily sedated, she proceeds to cut off his back legs with razor-wire cutters. This scene plays out in excruciating detail!

Next up, Aoyama.

Having created a distraction with first the music, and then the blackout, he manages to pull himself to the top of the stairs. Consequently, it’s of little benefit…

She wrapped the silvery metal cable around his left ankle, peered up into his eyes and pulled on the rings. The saw sank into the flesh and disappeared, and there was a loud pop as the Achilles tendon gave way.

RYŪ MURAKAMI, Chapter 12

Having cut off one foot, Yamasaki moves on to the other. Here, Aoyama begins to violently shake with a voice in his head appearing, ‘kick her, kick her.’ With the stub of his foot, he does just that, causing Yamasaki to tumble down the stair and bump her head.

Sitting in a heap on the floor, Yamasaki looks visibly hurt. Broken almost. At this point, Shige returns home and begins a game of chase with Yamasaki, resulting in Yamasaki getting stabbed several times.

Closing Thoughts

Audition is a melodrama for the first two-thirds and then a full-on psycho-horror for the final stretch. Catching the reader off guard is one of Audition’s key selling points. It’s just unfortunate that ever cover of the book seems to give these elements away.

Yamasaki is also a weak character, either being completely gold, or brutally sadistic but never having a grey area. There’s no change in her personality, her appearance nor her attitude. She is who she is all the time.

Add to this the fact that Aoyama has shown plenty of signs of male chauvinism and bravado he has it coming to him.

I’ll also say that the movie adaption of Audition, directed by the prolific and profound Takashi Miike, delivers an even harsher blow. It offers the same level of gore but without allowing you to look away for a second. It also delves more into Yamasaki’s psyche, offering up some great surrealist moments, unlike the book which plays them straight.

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