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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Audition

by
Murakami Ryu


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Audition



Title: Audition
Author: Murakami Ryu
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Audition - US
Audition - UK
Audition - Canada
Audition - India
Das Casting - Deutschland
DVD: Audition - US
Audition - UK
  • Japanese title: オーディション
  • Translated by Ralph McCarthy
  • Audition was made into a film in 1999, directed by Miike Takashi

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Our Assessment:

B : a rather ridiculous story, but fairly well told

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 6-8/2010 Nathan Rabin
The Guardian . 17/1/2009 Irvine Welsh
The Independent . 2/2/2009 Kim Newman
The Japan Times . 17/5/2009 Steve Finbow
The Telegraph . 12/1/2009 Kasia Boddy


  From the Reviews:
  • "Audition depends less on the bracing nastiness of its final twist than on the skillful interplay of the horrific and the mundane. Murakami's slim, simply written novel concerns the sketchy machinations of filmmaker Aoyama (.....) Murakami is not a subtle writer. He lays out the freshman-level psychology behind Asami's actions with all the ham-fisted literalness of the psychiatrist explaining how poor Norman Bates went a little batty after murdering his mother and her lover in Psycho. But if Audition skirts sexism, it's still enormously savvy about the roles class, age, social status, and gender play in romantic relationships, as well as about the queasy voyeurism and exploitation endemic to the entertainment industry." - Nathan Rabin, Bookforum

  • "Feminism has obviously never penetrated Japanese society in the same manner it did in the west, and while we have to accept Audition as being of its cultural place, it would be almost unthinkable for a male English-speaking writer, in almost any genre, to offer up a major female character like Yamasaki. The book's tendency to race to the finishing line is no bad thing, because it is in the third act that Murakami's writing is at its strongest, in what is a genuinely shocking and grisly climax. (... ) (T)he novel is a highly compulsive, one-sitting read" - Irvine Welsh, The Guardian

  • "Miike gained a lot from elegantly wrought source material -- but the book is now in danger of seeming like a draft, or even a screen treatment. Nevertheless, Audition is a serious shocker -- an inside-out romance that depends on connections the principal characters miss but the reader is nudged into noticing. This thoughtful analysis of the mores of modern Japanese relationships shifts into Grand Guignol overdrive in the closing pages." - Kim Newman, The Independent

  • "As separate entities, Audition the film and Audition the novel have a lot going for them, but the cinematic rendition of the novel is nowhere near as interesting." - Steve Finbow, The Japan Times

  • "Audition, then, allows author and reader to have it both ways, simultaneously indulging a taste for schlock and some low-level guilt about "objectification". (...) But for all his gory details, and his insistence that modern life is just one more movie, Murakami remains a romantic. Trauma and nostalgia may defeat each other, but there’s always hope in the form of the next generation." - Kasia Boddy, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Audition begins with forty-two-year-old Aoyama deciding that maybe it finally is time to look for a new wife. His first wife, Ryoko, died of cancer seven years earlier, and since then Aoyama has been raising their son, Shige, now fifteen, by himself. It's Shige that suggests that it's about time, and Aoyama finds that that isn't such a bad idea.
       Aoyama has an idea of what he's looking for in a woman -- someone with a career, and a background in classical music or ballet, among other things -- but he's not sure how best to go about finding someone who fits the bill. Unfortunately, his good buddy Yoshikawa helps him out there:

"There's only one way," he said finally. "Let's hold an audition."
       What he envisions -- and what they wind up doing -- is a double-audition: the women are told they're auditioning for a film, but Aoyama gets to sit in and check out the candidates. The film idea is more or less a ruse, but an elaborate one, with all the proper trappings -- and if some backer can be found to offer enough money they'd be willing to go through with it, too. Not a very honest way to meet women, but they're not too troubled by that. And the audition-idea is a huge success: thousands apply.
       Narrowing down the candidates, Aoyama is particularly taken by one (whose picture reminds him of his wife, and whose story touches him), Yamasaki Asami. In fact, while he picks out thirty other finalists, she's the one that immediately captures most of his attention -- even before he really knows anything about her.
       The live auditions just reinforce that initial impression, and soon enough he has his heart and mind entirely set on Yamasaki Asami. He asks her out a few times, and can't get over how perfect she is -- while Yoshikawa thinks he's getting carried away entirely too fast.
       Aoyama swoons:
     "She's so modest and sweet and uncomplicated. Which means, I suppose, that she's not really suited to being an actress, but ... There's just something very real and solid about her."
     "Oh yeah ?" Yoshikawa said in a rather cold tone of voice. "Well, I hate to be a wet blanket, but you know where I stand on this. Something doesn't seem right about this woman."
       Indeed, little red warning lights appear all over the place -- faint, but ominous. But Aoyama is so besotted he ignores them.
       And, in fact, no one can quite put their finger on what's wrong with Yamasaki Asami -- but they sure feel uncomfortable about her. One person tries to explain it to Aoyama:
"She knows what's important to her and she knows how to get it, but she doesn't let on what it is. I'm pretty sure it's not money, or success, or a normal happy life, or a strong man, or some weird religion, but that's about all I can tell you. She's like smoke: you think you're seeing her clearly enough, but when you reach for her there's nothing there. That's a sort of strength, I suppose. But it makes her hard to figure out."
     "She's nice, though, right ?" Aoyama said.
     Kai seemed taken aback by this. She shook her head and stubbed out her cigarette.
       Aoyama does learn a bit more about Yamasaki Asami -- specifically that she had a fairly traumatic childhood. But he's not worried by that -- even though even his teenage son reminds him: "from what I hear it's not that easy to overcome being abused as a child."
       And while Aoyama has been learning about Yamasaki Asami, she's been learning only what he tells her about himself. So it's a while before he breaks the news to her that he is a widower. And he doesn't mention he has a son .....
       Eventually, she's convinced that he's serious, and they profess their love for one another -- which leads to the weekend getaway where they can finally consummate their relationship. That goes incredibly well, for a while -- but when Aoyama wakes up she's long gone, and she seems to have disappeared. All that's left behind is a note warning: No forgiveness for lies. Yes, Aoyama apparently didn't quite live up to her very exacting expectations -- even though he should have known better.
       Aoyama tries desperately to find her, still thinking she's the one for him. Yes, he still doesn't realize what he's gotten himself into -- and when he finally does, it's way, way, way too late: there's no forgiveness for lies, and some people take their revenge very, very seriously.
       Audition moves from being a relatively sedate man-looking-for-new-wife novel to, briefly, torrid romance before, in its final two chapters, devolving into a grisly splatter-gore psycho-revenge story. It's ridiculous, but Murakami more or less pulls it off; those familiar with his other fiction may have been surprised how long he was able to hold off on the gory parts -- but then, of course, he more than makes up for it with this climax.
       The turn of events comes as no surprise: Murakami doesn't so much foreshadow as wave huge red flags from early on. There's little subtlety at work here. Everyone has their doubts about Yamasaki Asami except for this poor completely-blinded-by-love fool, and they all share their concerns with him, but if they register it's only for him to dismiss them. Aoyama should process the few odds and ends from her past -- that mentor who died under unusual circumstances, and then what she went through as a child -- better, but they don't worry him in the least.
       It is all a bit simple, and it's no surprise that Audition is better known in its film- rather than novel-version. Indeed, Audition reads like a novelization of a film script, all the warnings -- that huge combat knife Shige greets his father with one night, the details from Yamasaki Asami's past -- straight out of movie scenes. Still, Murakami leads the reader to the inevitable gruesome climax fairly well -- including keeping us wondering how exactly this is going to turn out (badly, sure -- but how badly ?).
       Women and their roles are still rather narrowly defined in Murakami-land here. Even he is aware of how dubious the ethics of the project that sets all this in motion -- auditioning women to be a wife, and not even being upfront with them about it -- are (though perhaps not quite as aware as he should be), but he's quite good at critiquing the voyeuristic society that makes for the possibility (and success) of such harebrained ideas. He's also very good at background material, about his characters, or the characters themselves -- such as the way Shige is used in the novel, a part of Aoyama's life but also leading his own. Indeed, among other things, Audition is a rather touching family-portrait of father, son, and dog.
       Like Aoyama, Murakami is a romantic at heart. Okay, not quite like Aoyama: Murakami's romanticism is of the decidedly gritty sort, acknowledging the devastating violence that often accompanies personal relationships. Nevertheless .....
       Murakami does find room to explore such things as where Japan has gone wrong, as, for example, he has Aoyama reminisce about watching Abebe Bikila at the Tokyo Olympics, back when: "Japan as a nation aspired to something in which each individual seemed invested." Aoyama spins his thoughts out:
Apparently what the Japanese wanted wasn't any better life, but more things. And things, of course, were a form of information. But as things became readily available and information began to flow smoothly, the original aspiration got lost in the shuffle. People were infected with the concept that happiness was something outside themselves, and a new and powerful form of loneliness was born. Mix loneliness with stress and enervation, and all sorts of madness can occur
       He's on the right track here -- but a little bit later his train of thought is interrupted, Murakami showing that, if not subtle, he at least can lay some very solid groundwork for the final punch he's going to land.
       A strange yet compelling novel -- both Aoyama's bizarre plan on how to get a wife, and then his head-over-heels infatuation with a very wrong girl are story-lines one wants to follow to their end, just to see how he handles them. The writing is often simple, the love story (while it's a love story) pretty banal, but Murakami has enough tricks -- writerly and cinematic -- up his sleeve to make for a decent read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 June 2010

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Links:

Audition: Reviews: Audition - the movie: Other books by Murakami Ryu under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Murakami Ryu (村上 龍) is a leading Japanese author. He was born in 1952.

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© 2010-2013 the complete review

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