Comments on Raymond H's A Successful Audition for the Darwin Award

Or, why Shigeharu Aoyama is the stupidest horror movie protagonist Raymond has ever seen

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Arthur B at 10:56 on 2018-06-05
See, I have a different take on Audition. Yes, Aoyama acts like a fool. On the other hand, he acts like precisely the sort of fool patriarchal society has set him up to be.

There's a cliche in discussing dating and the risks people face in that context of "Men are afraid of being embarrassed; women are afraid of being murdered", and there's quite a big chunk of truth to it: women are by far the targets of violence more than they are the perpetrators of it in dating contexts, and I know numerous women who feel that they have to take various safety steps when going on a date in the event that the person they're with turns out to be some form of abuser - the classic full-blown serial killer being an extreme example, but hardly an unknown one. I don't think I've ever known a man to express the same fears about meeting up with a woman.

So far as I can tell, the whole point of Audition is to depict a man who, for once, is actually subject to the same danger that women are routinely subjected to in dating - and because he's a privileged little patriarch, he doesn't recognise the danger at all. That's part of how privilege works - it insulates you from the very idea that someone might dare to harm you. (As a beneficiary of that privilege, I often find it eye-opening and startling how much others who don't get the same benefits have to be wary.)

So sure, he gets all these people suggesting that he should distance himself from Asami, but when has the disapproval of one's peers ever prompted anyone to break off a new relationship? And sure, he investigates Asami's background and finds out that something is up, but I think it entirely makes sense for him to decide that whatever that is, it surely can't be her fault - that if anything, she's in trouble and she needs a doughy patriarch like him to save her. The possibility that she might be the trouble doesn't occur to Aoyama because he doesn't conceive of young, pretty girls as being capable of being trouble. And you know how the saying goes: when you assume, you make an ass out of yourself and lose a foot.

As far as Asami's apparent lack of clear motivations go, I don't consider them a problem. The stated motivations of real life serial killers aren't especially narratively satisfactory either, in most cases. Again, so far as I can see, the whole point of Asami is that she is (on a somewhat grand guignol scale) exactly the sort of sadistic abuser that women have to be afraid of on a regular basis, but which men are rarely in danger from. Plus, giving her actions a convincing rationale would run the risk of, if not excusing them, at least making them somehow sympathetic.
Raymond H at 12:02 on 2018-06-05
...Okay...I see what you're saying...and I half-agree, but I still don't quite see it that way, and it all boils down to that word you used "sympathetic". I think, if you are trying to point a lens at a put-upon group of people, then you need to paint that group with at least some degree of sympathy, but from my experience, the audience's sympathy seemed intended for Aoyama all the way through, even when they demonstrated some of his more reprehensible thoughts and actions. Ultimately, even if this film was intended to subtly mock viewers' patriarchal prejudices, it still set about doing it with a scaaary woman that needed to be killed. So it's kind of like reading Dracula as a subtle critique of Victorian pomposity and prejudice. Considering that Stoker was himself an Irishman, that's an entirely valid reading, but because Dracula is a blood-drinking, soulless abomination, it somewhat shoots the message in the foot. Maybe it's because of my experience reading Naomi, which seemed like it's criticizing its patriarchal protagonist, but then was actually just about how if you let women have male friends or talk back in any way it'll destroy society.

You are right, unless there's a clear power imbalance, when women are abusive to men, they go for emotional and psychological abuse, rather than physical, at least from my experience. And maybe it's because of that experience that I'm bitter and cynical, and was thus more receptive to the warning signs Asami exhibited. However, by making Asami, as you said, a female version of the sort of serial killer a woman might encounter on the dating scene, I think the filmmakers went too far, from satire to farce. I do like what you pointed out, that Aoyama's stupidity can be chalked up partially to how he never suspects Asami might be the trouble, and I know that can be a blinder. But again, I think without any sympathy, Asami's excessive psychopathy ended up hurting any potentially anti-sexism message the film had. By making her the abuser, and making Aoyama the victim, it makes it difficult to see beyond that evil woman / good man dynamic. Maybe it worked better in the book, maybe I'm too distrustful to put myself fully in Aoyama's shoes, but I don't know.

Geez, that was long-winded and messy. Sorry. Uh, I guess, in summation, I think you make several valid points, but I just can't agree %100.
Ichneumon at 04:33 on 2018-06-08
I dunno, I think you can write and effective horror yarn around a largely unsympathetic cast. The point of horror isn't necessarily to reflect empathy with the characters themselves; rather, as Thomas Ligotti has argued, horror is about empathy with a set of shared fears and a shared understanding with the author. The shared fear here is not that of the protagonist person see, pathetic though he is, but of women within a patriarchal society which objectifies and abuses them; the empathy may in part be with the victim, made a patsy by societal expectations, but also with the author's dim view of said society.
Raymond H at 12:58 on 2018-06-11
Okay! So, uh, I guess I ought to start with some kind of disclaimer or something. This article was simply meant as a means to laugh at a bad family movie night experience. By laughing at things, we often are able to deal with and process them better, after all. However, Arthur's initial comment struck a chord with me. Not because he disagreed with my opinion on the internet (the unforgivable sin), but because his comment
As a beneficiary of that privilege, I often find it eye-opening and startling how much others who don't get the same benefits have to be wary.

made me realize that my own experiences with dating and romance may not have been, for lack of a better word, "normal". I've always laughed at the things that happened to me, because, again, that makes them easier to deal with, and I'd always thought that, because I was a straight, cis guy, whatever had happened to me couldn't possibly measure up to what women or trans people face on a daily basis. And it doesn't. But after talking with friends and family, I realize it does matter, and I can't just keep laughing it off. Just because a disease isn't cancer or AIDS doesn't mean it isn't fatal if left untreated. And I need to treat this. So, uh, thanks Arthur, I guess.

Hoo! Okay, that was...man! I'm glad you convinced me to use a pseudonym, Arthur, because without that I'd probably have kept all that under a pickle-jar-tight lid. But ironically enough, an internet-based mask let me open up and deal with a deep-rooted issue in my life. Tell everybody what, next article I write will be about a happy romantic comedy.

Okay, now to address Ichneumon's comment, and Arthur's comment correctly this time! What bugged me about a lot of reviews that praised Audition's supposed feminist credentials was that they operated under the logic of "Asami tries to kill the guy that objectified her, ergo she is a feminist hero, ergo this is a feminist film". I don't agree with that line of logic, for the reasons I listed in the article. However, re-reading Arthur's comment, I see that you're actually going down a different logic route. "Asami is a reflection of the worst fears a woman in the dating scene can face, ergo by making her a her and her victim a him, it flips the power dynamic of this traditional, real-world horror and thus casts a lens on said real-world horror." Ichneumon, your comment, if I understand it correctly, is basically "Even if you don't like Aoyama, you can still empathize with his fear, and thus even if the movie seems to be 'sympathizing' with him, it could still be deeply criticizing him."

Thinking about it, I would say those are valid "readings" of the film, and again, maybe my own experiences have clouded my own reading. Even accepting your readings though, I stand by my judgment that Miike went for the most gratuitously violent and juvenile route when dealing with these issues. Even thinking back on the film and going "Oh yeah, I guess that's right", I still think Miike was too focused on "Whoo! Blood! Guts! Fuckin' gorefest maaan!" for me to consider this a good film. Genre fiction, in my opinion, is used best when wrapping real-world issues and problems in a creamy, more easily-digestible genre coating. In the case of horror, no boogeyman or monster under the bed can compare to the myriad ways that human beings can hurt you, but personifying real-world fears as boogeymen and monsters can make them or their memory a little easier to confront. But I think Miike was too firmly focused on the personification of Asami to really give the real-world fears behind her conception the focus and subtlety they deserve. I don't think horror should be "feel-good", but it should give you the courage to face your fears. This film seems more focused on making patriarchally-insulated men as scared as women are when it comes to dating, and it stops at that point, rather than going on to make the male audience think about how to change this patriarchal system. And that, I think, is why I still can't bring myself to like this film.
Arthur B at 13:39 on 2018-06-11
Yeah, I think any reading of the film where Asami is any sort of "hero" is simply untenable - when you take into account more or less every aspect of how the movie frames her actions and their effect on people, the argument simply doesn't have a leg to stand on.
Ichneumon at 02:59 on 2018-06-12
Oh, I agree. But I do think the subtext is quite important here in terms of the mechanics of the horror even if one does not care for the execution. Asami is a ghoulish subversion of the assumptions of a patriarchal society made flesh; her existence as a concept may resonate, but that does not make her anything resembling a sympathetic character—if anything, that type of character is more a force of nature, an emanation of the malevolence or harrowing indifference of greater forces rather than a person in themselves.
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