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Review: Audition

July 9, 2009

Title: Audition
Author: Ryu Murakami
Published: 1997
Pages: 208

Synopsis:

Documentary-maker Aoyama hasn’t dated anyone in the seven years since the death of his beloved wife, Ryoko. Now even his teenage son Shige has suggested he think about remarrying. So when his best friend Yoshikawa comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions so that Aoyama can choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami, a young, beautiful, delicate and talented ballerina with a turbulent past. But there is more to her than Aoyama, blinded by his infatuation, can see, and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late Ryu Murakami delivers his most subtle and disturbing novel yet, confirming him as Japan’s master of the psycho-thriller.

Review:

Audition is about misogyny; be it hidden or blatant, it’s about our ability to hide who we truly are  and it’s also an insight into the relations between Japanese men and women.

Misogyny is presented in two different ways in this book, Aoyama and his friend Yoshikawa stage a fake audition for finding a wife for Aoyama. These two men are deceiving the women who apply. On the surface, it can be seen as being harmless but there is a darker undercurrent to the proceedings.

Aoyama actively seeks out the women who have a classical background; someone from the arts and therefore someone cultured. There is something quite seedy about the whole thing; all the women are being presented as if in a whorehouse and the two men are paying customers.

Aoyama finally settles upon Yamasaki Asami, who, on first appearances, is beautiful and everything he wanted. She is completely subversive; she seems utterly devoted to Aoyama. He, therefore, is getting his own gratification from the situation. He expects this woman to be hanging by every word.

The men in this book all act as if women are only for their own sense of need. Aoyama wants an intelligent woman, not because he wants a women who can hold her own but one that can keep up while he’s lecturing. His son dislikes the girls at his school because they are too independent. The men want submissive, willing females.

In the book, people hide behind facades. Asami hides behind her beauty and her submissive behaviour. In fact, in the audition, Yoshikawa warns Aoyama not to trust a photograph as a women might look different. This is because photographs aren’t a true depiction of life, they are a placeholder for a moment; we can never truly believe a photograph because it’s been processed by another gaze. The characters in the book have different gazes on the same thing: Asami. Everyone sees her as cold and distant, they do not understand her but Aoyoma sees her through his own mental process, he only sees what he wants to see.

In fact, the book seems to make a point of everyone is being someone else. It’s all about what you have, where you go and what you do. Aoyama thinks that in Japan people can do what they want but they must sacrifice something for it. A subtle foreshadowing of what happens to him perhaps.

There is a fair amount of discussion about food in the book. Aoyoma and Asami go to different restaurants and have foreign food but not Japanese cuisine. In one part Aoyama says that

 In this country we have the illusion that there’s always this warm, loving community we belong to, but the other side of that is a sort of exclusiveness and xenophobia, and our food reflects this. Japanese cuisine isn’t inclusive at all – in fact it’s extremely inhospitable to outsiders, to people who don’t fit into the community.

Asami and Aoyama have sex in the book, and it is in this scene where her facade slips and their positions are reversed. She is assertive, she takes the initiative and he becomes placid and submissive. Aoyama thinks to himself why isn’t he taking control, why isn’t “pushing her down on the bed and climbing on top of her?” Note the word “pushing”, his position of power is being taking away, so he wants to be domineering and to control the sex. Later on, he remembers how he penetrated her and how he got “a taste of cruel and infinitely salacious delight”. He uses the word “assailing” to describe him entering her and he describes her vagina as her “inner temple”. So, the word temple brings up connotations of tranquillity, his act and his enjoyment of it is metaphorically him gaining his power back by penetrating an important part of her. There is no love but only a need to be on top, both figuratively and literally.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil it but probably most people know what happens. I’m going to give this book three stars, and I did enjoy it but I would recommend getting it from the library. I don’t see myself reading it again. I think a problem with it is that I’ve seen the film and it somewhat spoils it. Plus, I’ve read about this themes before and it doesn’t bring anything that new to it. It’s well written and does make you think a bit but I’m not sure it has staying power.

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