Dear White People (Season 2, 2018)

Greetings Loved ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

One week after the climax of the first season, the Black students of Winchester University have a new problem to deal with. Actually, they’ve got several. Due to someone setting another dorm on fire, Armstrong Parker, the campus’s traditionally all-Black residence hall, has been integrated, and the locals don’t like their new White neighbors. On top of this, there’s an alt-right troll posting horrible things online about Sam, Coco, Troy, and pretty much all the other main characters. And as if this weren’t bad enough, each of our protagonists has personal demons to deal with. For Coco, it’s an unplanned pregnancy. For Sam, it’s her father’s ailing health. For Reggie, it’s PTSD from the time a cop pulled a gun on him for no reason. And for Troy, it’s a sense of listlessness after losing a clear direction in his life. How will they deal with these issues? Watch the season, and find out for yourself.

Dear White People, Season 2, is a rare achievement. It’s a follow-up to a hit series that maintains the quality of the original. The dialogue is sharp as ever, the performances are top notch, and the drama feels very real. I was honestly kind of amazed as I was watching it at how much emotional depth was being given to the characters. My two favorite episodes, easily, are a tense, 30-minute conversation between Sam and Gabe, where they air their grievances, and eventually fall back in love, and the one directly afterward, where Sam has to go home for personal, tragic reasons. These episodes were the ones where the characters felt the most like real people, and the more political aspects of the show were toned down in favor of telling more grounded, human stories. They’re great, and, honestly, I think you could watch them without having seen the rest of the show, and still appreciate them. This season also drops some weird plot threads from the first, like Troy’s affair with one of his professors, despite the fact that she’s married, and a lesbian, which I’m personally glad about, because that just raises far too many problematic questions to count. And, as if this needs saying, Lionel is an absolute gem. He’s the nicest, and certainly the most put-together of the main cast, having a pretty stable personal life, and just not being an asshole to people out of hand. Every episode with him as the primary focus is super fun, and I loved watching him and this one guy named Wesley fall for each other. In short, Dear White People, Season 2, is quite good, and you all should give it a look.

But do so knowing a few key things. For starters, there’s a lot from the first season that doesn’t carry over. I mentioned Troy’s affair with his professor, but there’s also some characters, such as Reggie’s friend Ikumi, whom I liked, and who were introduced in the first season, that never get brought up again. They might as well have not existed, that’s how little attention the show pays to them in this season. On top of this, there’s a multi-episode subplot, involving a secret society, that ends with the narrator, who, up till that point, was just a voice who explained stuff to the audience, actually becoming a person the protagonists can interact with. I thought it was kind of weird, and I’m not sure where the show will take it. Finally, there’s something that the writers do that, admittedly, I thought was pretty clever at first, but just got on my nerves after a while, and that’s having the characters acknowledge that they’re in a TV show. It’s not quite breaking the fourth wall, but it gets very close. Sometimes, it’ll be meta-textual jokes , like when Sam asks her roommate, Joelle, to go running with her, and the latter says, “what, like that thing White girls do in TV, so the show runners have a visually interesting means of getting out exposition?” Other times, it’ll be characters commenting on TV shows they’re watching, which themselves are parodies of real programs, like Scandal and Empire. It’s fine, at first, but they do it in almost every single episode, and it honestly gets kind of distracting after a while. Part of this is because the first season isn’t like this at all. It’s not like Deadpool, where the whole joke is the fact that this character knows he’s in a movie, and is making fun of the tropes we see in movies. Dear White People, at least initially, was all about addressing real issues of race, gender, sexuality and identity on college campuses that exist today. It wasn’t some big parody of the kinds of movies and shows that do that, and when the characters constantly reference that they’re in a TV show, it feels like they are making fun of the exact type of program they are.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, none of these issues are enough for me to tell you all to not check the show out. It’s well-written, well-acted, and always entertaining. Go ahead and give it a watch.                                             


Ring (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

Asakawa is an ambitious young reporter, who doesn’t give a crap about his family. Seriously. He wishes his wife and daughter would remain silent at all times, and when his niece, Tomoko, dies of mysterious, unknown causes, he barely bats an eye. Literally the only thing that gets him interested in the girl’s death is when a cab driver tells him that he saw a kid keel over the exact same date and time as she did, also of mysterious causes. This convinces Asakawa that there is a connection, and even a supernatural force responsible. (This is set during a time when Japanese society is obsessed with the occult). So he investigates, and finds that there is, indeed, a link between his niece and the boy who died on the street. Exactly one week prior to their deaths, they and two other students went to a cabin in the countryside, and watched a mysterious video. Asakawa watches this video as well, only to learn that he has seven days left to live. Terrified, Asakawa recruits his friend, Ryuji, a rapist who also happens to teach, to help him find the source of the curse, and hopefully, stop it before it’s too late.

Any horror fan worth their salt knows, and has watched, the Ring films, be it the 1998 Japanese original, or the American remake directed by Gore Verbinski. I certainly have, and yet I never knew that they were actually based off a novel by Koji Suzuki. Now, being a horror fan, and such a big admirer of the films, I decided to give the book a read, in the hopes that whatever it had might help me write a scary story of my own, something I’ve been trying to do for a while. Having read the book, however, all I can think is that we are extremely lucky to have the films in our lives, because this novel is not worth the time it took me to finish it.

Ring is a boring, sexist, and thoroughly nonthreatening piece of work that I’m honestly kind of shocked was able to spawn such influential horror films. It’s pace is sluggish, it’s prose  is flat, the author spends far more time describing apartment complexes and hotel rooms than anything potentially scary, and its portrayal, and treatment, of women is appalling. What this book honestly reminded me of was the novel that Jaws was based off of. If you know anything about Jaws, you know that the film bears very little resemblance to the piece it takes its name from. Character’s ages are changed, romantic subplots are omitted, the ending is different, and there’s a whole bit with the mob that was cut out for time, and because it was really, really stupid. Basically, Steven Spielberg took the names, and the general premise of a shark eating people, and made his own movie. It appears that Hideo Nakata, who helmed the 1998 original, and Gore Verbinski, did the same with Ring. Here’s just a few differences between the book and movies. In the movies, the main character is a woman, a recently divorced mother of a young boy, whose ex-husband is a college professor. In the book, the main character is a man, who is married, and has a daughter. The movies open with two girls, one of them being the niece of the heroine, talking about the video curse, only to have an unseen force kill the niece and drive the friend insane. The book opens with the niece by herself, and features an almost pornographic description of her peeing before she gets murdered. In the movies, the heroine deduces that there’s something supernatural going on when she finds that three other people, all of whom were friends with her niece, died on the same night she did, and that their faces are now blotted out from photographs for some reason. In the book, the main character just jumps to the conclusion that there must be a curse afoot because two people, who were roughly the same age, died on the same night, and has to do a lot of investigating before he learns that the people who were killed were friends. I could go on, but you get the idea. The point I’m trying to make is that the Ring movies move much more quickly, and find ways of building up dread by getting to the scenes of horror sooner, and dwelling on those, as opposed to wasting our time with descriptions of the main character arguing with his editor, or talking to cab drivers.

But the biggest problem I have with the Ring novel is the fact that it is so unabashedly misogynistic. Now look, people have talked about how the Ring movies are, in their own way, kind of sexist, which is fair. The original film, especially, takes every possible chance to shame the heroine for having a life outside of motherhood, and portrays her as weak and emotional ,and needing to be slapped out of a stupor by her ex. But, trust me, those films are feminist manifestos compared to this book. The main character, and the novel itself, constantly complains about how women are nagging, overly sensitive, and far too concerned with their appearances. There’s that pornographic description of the niece peeing I mentioned earlier. And then there’s the not so small matter of the second most important character in the book, Ryuji, the man Asakawa enlists to help him find the source of the curse, being a rapist. And that’s not my opinion. That’s not me being an overly sensitive liberal who misinterpreted the prose. The book flat out calls him a rapist. It’s explained that the two men met when Ryuji gleefully told Asakawa that he’d raped a woman, and asked him not to tell. Asakawa didn’t, and they became best friends after that. And what makes this even more appalling is the fact that the novel takes every chance to highlight Ryuji’s positive features, such as his intelligence, charisma, and physical fitness. It literally glorifies him. Reading this book made me aware of something that I’ve been wanting to talk about on here for a while, and that’s the fact that Japanese society, particularly Japanese art, seems weirdly okay with rape. Now look, I don’t want any of my Japanese, or Japanese-American, readers to get the wrong impression. I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying that the Japanese are worse than us Americans, or that we, somehow, don’t have problems with sexism and sexual assault. We do. But one thing I can say for certain is that American artwork at least condemns rape. If you look at almost any American film, novel or TV show that includes sexual assault, you see that it is always portrayed as a horror; as something that should be reviled, and punished. In Japanese films, TV shows, particularly animes, and books, however, sexual assault is either brushed off, treated as a joke, or even glorified. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself, why is it that so many animes, Naruto, Bleach, feature female characters getting groped, or having people look up their skirts? Why is it that so much Japanese pornography features women screaming “no” and “stop?” Why is it that, all throughout the 70s and 80s, the most popular genre of film in Japan was the pink, or sexploitation, movie, which almost exclusively featured women getting assaulted, and falling in love, with their rapists? This is not a new phenomenon. It goes all the way back to classic Japanese movies, like Rashoman, Life Of Oharu, and The Tale Of Ugetsu. Even modern, more seemingly gentle flicks, like Departures, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, features the main character forcing himself on his wife after a hard day at work. And this isn’t even getting into all the sex crimes that were committed during World War 2 by Japanese troops, such as the Rape of hundreds of thousands in Nanking, and the kidnap, and forced conscription into brothels of millions of “comfort women” from China, Korea, Indonesia and elsewhere. Having grown up with Japanese neighbors, and a Nissei step-grandfather, I could never wrap my brain around the idea of Japanese men committing such heinous sex crimes, even during times of war. But now, having read so much japanese literature, film, and TV, especially anime, I have to wonder if the constant portrayal of rape as being no big deal taught these men that it wasn’t anything to worry about. Ring is just one in a long line of books and films from Japan that don’t treat sexual assault with the care and insight that it should, and I find it repulsive in every way imaginable.

Guys, don’t read this book. It’s boring, it’s slow, and it’s beyond sexist. If you want to see this book’s central premise done right, watch either of the films. They’re faster, scarier, and considerably better at representing women. Then again, that’s not a very high bar to clear.

First Reformed (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views are My Game.

Ethan Hawke is the pastor of a small, upstate New York Church. He’s a veteran, a recovering alcoholic, and a man slowly dying of cancer. One day, he is asked by one of his parishioners, Amanda Seyfried, to counsel her husband, a radical environmental activist. The man is depressed, and she believes talking to a pastor would be good for him. Hawke agrees to do so, but finds himself unable to console the man, who believes that humanity’s damage to the Earth is irreversible, and that it’s not worth bringing life into an existence this shitty. Things only get worse when the man kills himself, and Hawke finds a suicide bomber’s vest in the former’s garage. Hawke slowly unravels from there, becoming radicalized into the dead man’s cause, and even planning to blow himself up and kill every member of his congregation in the process. Will he do so? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

First Reformed is a film I hadn’t heard of until my roommate mentioned it to me. Then, when I learned that it was written and directed by Paul Schrader, the writer of such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, I knew I had to go see it. And, having seen it, I can tell you that this is a beautifully-acted, meticulously crafted, haunting, unnerving movie. Now, let me be clear, It’s not the kind of film that you watch to enjoy and feel good about yourself. It’s the kind of film that’s designed to provoke you, to make you uneasy. Which is no surprise, given that many of Schrader’s other movies, Taxi Driver, Last Temptation Of Christ, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, were controversial at the time of their releases. And if you’re a person who doesn’t like the idea of watching a man of God suffer, act violently, and mentally and physically deteriorate, I can totally see why you’d hate this movie. As for me, I found the whole thing strangely hypnotic. It’s a very quiet movie–literally, there’s no score for most of the film–and there are several scenes of Hawke just living his life, and talking to the various members of his congregation. All of this makes both him, and the other characters in the movie, feel more real, and makes you empathize with him, even after he starts to deteriorate. The camerawork is also very interesting. Movement is used very effectively to emphasize both shifts in character, and key plot points. In the first half of the movie, shots are static, wide, and scenes play out in single, unbroken takes. As Hawke unravels, however, the camera begins to move, and not in the sense that it starts shaking, but in the sense that it’ll glide away from him, as if to mirror his sanity slowly leaving his body. All of this, coupled with truly excellent performances from Hawke, and all the supporting cast, definitely make First Reformed worth watching, regardless of its provocative subject matter.

Now, if I have any critiques of the film, apart from the fact that it will no doubt offend many people, it’s that it very much feels like a Paul Schrader joint. Almost all his films, Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, tell the stories of people falling from grace. In many cases, the characters will plan to murder others, as part of some grand political statement, only to chicken out at the last minute, and turn the gun (Taxi Driver) or knife (Mishima) on themselves. This film follows that formula to a T, with it even lifting shots from Schrader’s other movies. At one point , Hawke looks down into his glass as the liquid inside sloshes about (if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, you know what I’m getting at). Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with a writer having certain quirks and recurring themes–mine include having the main character be Asian, and telling a story set in the past–but it does get to be a problem when the writer in question just recycles those quirks without trying to do anything new. And, the thing is, for the first half of the movie, it did feel like Schrader was trying to do something new. He was making a quiet drama about a pastor helping others, a refreshing change of pace from the dark and gritty crime-dramas he’s known for. But then, the second half rolls around, and I realized, “oh no. Schrader’s just doing what he always does.” And, because of that, I almost feel like some of the things that the film has to say about God, and the Environment, and the commercialization of spirituality, don’t really resonate anymore, because this is just another story about a crazy person who wants to kill people. And the thing is, the movie even knows this. When Hawke finds the suicide vest in the dead man’s garage, he tells Amanda Seyfried to not let anyone know about this, because, to use his own words, “His cause was just. Best not to sully it with disrepute.” It was like Schrader was trying to remind himself that if he went ahead and told the kind of stories he usually does, all the points he’s making would be rendered moot. Alas, he went ahead and told that story anyway.

But, if I’m being honest with myself, I still think this is a good movie. It’s very well-acted, and very well-crafted with regards to it’s cinematography and sound design. For that reason, I would recommend you all go see it. If it’s in your area, give it a look.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, has a problem. His girlfriend is dead, and, thanks to his healing factor, he can’t join her in heaven. Not until his heart is in the right place. But what does that mean? Well, Wade interprets that as a call to protect a young mutant boy, Russell, from the time-traveler Cable, who has journeyed back from the future to assassinate him. And if that sounds like the plot to a Terminator movie, never fear. Deadpool most certainly comments on that fact. So now, the race is on to assemble a new super team, X-Force, and save Russell before it’s too late. Will they do both in time? Well, you’ll just have to watch to find out.

Deadpool 2 is a movie I watched purely on a whim. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original. I mean, I liked it well enough, and I could certainly understand why people appreciated it, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. A little too much profanity, and childish humor, for my taste. Still, the reviews for this film came in, they were good, and I decided to sit down in a movie theater and give Deadpool 2 a try. And, having done so, I found myself walking out rather satisfied.

This movie is more or less exactly what the original was–lots of violence, profanity, and meta-textual humor–but with a bigger budget. A lot more explosions and car chases this time around. Like the last one, there are some jokes that really hit, and some jokes that don’t. Also like the last one, the acting, particularly from Ryan Reynolds, is quite good, though Reynolds does chew the scenery a bit too much for my taste. There’s one moment in particular, which parodies overlong, dramatic death scenes, that I found a bit grating. But, to be fair, that’s entirely a matter of personal taste. As I mentioned in my Death Of Stalin review, comedy is one of the few genres that is truly subjective. If you aren’t into a particular type of humor, you won’t like certain movies. So, for that reason, I can’t really knock Deadpool 2 down for not having jokes that I liked. What I can comment on is the filmmaking, which, for the most part, is solid. As I said, the acting is good, the action is well-staged, with everything being shot in clear, long takes, and the film moves at a brisk enough pace that you’re never bored. I also liked the introduction of new characters into the universe, particularly Domino, who has the power to be lucky, and Yukio, who is Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s girlfriend. That last fact is actually a pretty big deal, because Yukio and Negasonic are now officially the first openly queer couple in a mainstream blockbuster. That’s huge. I also really like the woman who plays Yukio, Australian actress Shiori Kutsuna, who, fun fact, was in a movie that one of my professors, Shinho Lee, wrote. It’s called While The Women Are Sleeping, and I think you all should check it, and her other work, particularly the Japanese remake of Unforgiven, out. Unfortunately, neither she nor Negasonic are really in the movie for that long. And even though it’s great to see an openly queer Asian woman in a mainstream blockbuster, she’s kind of a Japanese stereotype. She giggles, waves, and the only thing she really gets to say is “Hi Wade” and “bye Wade” throughout the movie. I just hope that in the next film, she gets a little more to do. But my biggest gripe, by far, is the fact that, as impressive as the action is, it’s all so big and frenetic that it gets exhausting after a while. It kind of reminds me of The Last Jedi. If you read my review for that film, you’d know that I liked the movie, but I found all the action in it so big and bombastic that no single beat felt more important or impactful than another. The same principle holds true with Deadpool 2. Virtually every action scene involves an explosion, ten cars flipping over each other, and at least 100 people getting killed. And those are supposed to be the smaller, warm-up beats leading to the big climax.

In the end, though, I do think Deadpool 2‘s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It’s got good acting, well-filmed action and a brisk pace. Maybe some of the humor doesn’t land, and maybe it could have given Yukio and Negasonic more to do, but those are both matters of personal taste. I do think it’s fun, and definitely worth a watch.

Glorious, Buffalo Trail & Silver City (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Cash McLendon, or CM as his friends know him, has a problem. Actually, he’s got several. Not only did he choose to marry the wrong woman back in Saint Louis, which led to his true love, Gabriella, leaving for the Arizona territory, but the woman he wed committed suicide, and her father, the ruthless businessman Rupert Douglas, has sent a hit man, the appropriately nicknamed “Killer Boots” after him. So now, if he wants his skull to remain intact, Cash must track down Gabriella, make amends, and escape to some place where Killer Boots can’t find him. But what will Cash do when he learns that Gabriella has fallen for another man? Go on several rip-roaring adventures, involving everything from silver mining, to buffalo hunting, to gun fighting, that’s what.

Glorious, Buffalo Trail and Silver City are old-fashioned novels, in every sense of the word. Not only are they Westerns, a genre that is rarely touched these days, but the narratives and themes are also very much what you’d expect to see in a classic, John Wayne movie. The divisions between good and evil are clear and distinct, the Native Americans are shown as hostile and savage, the main dramatic thrust is a man trying to win the love of a woman; the list goes on. There’s nothing ironic, or deconstructive about these novels. They’re not trying to prove that the heroic Western is a myth. If anything, they’re trying to revitalize it. Now for some, that will be refreshing. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a deep fondness for the Western genre, and am sad that we very rarely see it anymore, either in film or in literature. So I was happy to read a trilogy of books, which, in addition to being, for the most part, historically accurate, are sweeping Westerns, set in the 1870s, and that touch upon all the classic Western themes. At the same time, however, I can see how these novels’ unabashed nostalgia for the Western, including its racist and misogynistic trappings, could rub people the wrong way. It certainly rubbed me the wrong way, especially when you consider that these are not old books. The last in this trilogy, Silver City, came out in 2017. This makes the fact that the Natives are so clearly and un-ironically the villains, and the female characters are pretty much just there to be won like trophies, kind of uncomfortable. Doesn’t Jeff Guinn, the author, know that this sort of thing doesn’t really go over very well anymore? Granted, one could make the argument that this is more historically authentic, but still. These are modern novels, for modern audiences. You have to address modern sensibilities.

But setting that aside, and just looking at the writing itself, the trilogy is entertaining enough. The prose is simple and direct, there’s a lot of dialogue, and the characters, while one-note, are charming in their own way. Each book takes place in a different location, the first, Glorious, is set in a silver-mining town of the same name, the second, Buffalo Trail, unfolds in the Texas pan-handle, and the third, Silver City, switches back and forth between Saint Louis, Missouri, and Mountain View, Arizona. Each book introduces new characters, and new threats. In Glorious, the villain is a ranch owner who wants to scare all the townies away. In Buffalo Trail, it’s a Comanche war-chief, the real-life founder of the Native American Church, Quanah Parker. And in Silver City, it’s Killer Boots, come to take vengeance on Cash. In terms of quality, the books are about the same. They’ve all got similar pacing, level of characterization and structure. And with the exception of Silver City, all of them have cliffhanger endings, so they really do need to be read as a whole, and not separate entities. My least favorite is probably Buffalo Trail, primarily because it feels the most detached from the other two. The main thrust of this trilogy is the relationship between Cash and Gabriella, and the need to avoid Killer Boots. None of that is present in Buffalo Trail. It focuses on Cash by himself, and relates to the larger story in the most tenuous manner possible; he’s hunting Buffalo to make money to see Gabriella again. She never appears in the book, and is only referenced a few times. As a result, the whole story feels like padding. The one thing that does make Buffalo Trail somewhat interesting is the fact that it tells the true story of the Battle of Adobe Walls, which took place in 1874, and, with the exception of Cash, every single person in the novel really did exist. I was honestly kind of surprised at how much detail concerning the battle, and the people involved, Jeff Guinn used in the book. That shows a true commitment to historical authenticity, and I’ve got to give him props for that. But, like I said, historical authenticity doesn’t necessarily make for good storytelling, and this trilogy suffers from slow pacing and excessive detail. Guinn also makes a habit of introducing characters who you think will be important, but then never show up again. The most notable is Doc Chow, a Chinese-American woman whom Cash meets in Glorious. By this point, it has been revealed that Gabriella is with another man, and when Cash meets Doc Chow, there is a mutual attraction, and you see a future where maybe Cash could learn to let Gabriella go and find happiness with someone new. I was hoping Guinn would go that direction. It’d be both progressive, a White man in a Western accepting a woman’s refusal and falling in love with a person of color, and unexpected. But, alas, Doc Chow never appears again in the trilogy, and you’re left wondering why she was even included in the story at all.

So, in the end, if you want to read something simple, entertaining, and old-fashioned, give these books a look. They’re not great, but they’re also not half bad either. They’re good summer reading, and it’s always nice to hunker down with a book this time of year.

Ghost Stories (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Phillip Goodman has spent his life investigating the paranormal; all in the hopes of proving that there is nothing to this world beyond what we can see, hear and feel. But, one day, he is contacted by a mentor, and fellow skeptic, Dr. Cameron, who claims that he has come across three cases that cannot be explained through science, and is starting to doubt his life’s work. He begs Goodman to prove him wrong, to find evidence that the cases are all hoaxes, and Goodman agrees, setting out to investigate the three alleged incidents. These include a Night Watchman who was haunted by a girl in an abandoned asylum, a teenager who was attacked by a monster out in the woods, and a financier who was visited by both a poltergeist and the ghost of his dead wife. Goodman is confident that all three cases can be explained through science. As the investigation progresses, however, he becomes less and less sure of this, and more and more skeptical of his own sanity.

Guys, when it comes to movies, I’m a jaded person. I’ve seen, read, and listened to so much about cinema that, most of the time, when I go in to see a movie, I know exactly how it’s going to pan out. Nowhere is this more true than with horror films. The tropes, tricks and trademarks are so well-documented, and have been so thoroughly satirized, that its really hard for me to get scared by them anymore. Even with good horror movies, like Get Out and It Follows, I find myself more engaged by these films than frightened by them. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t scare easily, and when a film comes around that really and truly chills me, it’s special. It’s amazing.  And this film, Ghost Stories, is both of those things. This is the first film I’ve seen, in a very long time, that really and truly frightened me. Everything about it, from the moody cinematography, to the use of music and sound effects, is unnerving. Watching this movie reminded me of those nights when I was a kid, alone in my parent’s house, and even the slightest peep would terrify me. The Asylum sequence, especially, gave me the willies. If you love horror movies, if you’re jaded, and want to watch something truly unsettling, give this flick a look. It is absolutely worth your time.

Now, that said, this movie is still a movie, and therefore suffers from flaws, as all movies do. The biggest one, easily, is the ending. I won’t spoil it, but, I’m not exaggerating when I say that it almost ruined the whole experience for me. It’s barely built up to, completely changes the tone of the rest of the film, and more or less betrays what the picture has been saying so far; that there are some things in life that can’t be explained. And unlike most films that start off well, but have bad conclusions, you can’t just say, “well, the ending sucked, but I can just enjoy the first half by itself,” because this ending completely changes that first half. Still, the acting, cinematography, editing and genuinely frightening tone of this film definitely make it worth a watch. Just go in expecting a stupid ending.

Audition (1999)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Aoyama is a middle-aged widower who has spent the past 7 years in mourning. One day, his son, Shigehiko, tells him that he looks old, and should start dating again. Distraught, Aoyama goes to his friend, Yoshikawa, for advice, and Yoshikawa, believing that the current dating scene is too complex for Aoyama to navigate, devises a scheme to get his pal laid. This involves Yoshikawa, who is a film producer, setting up a phony audition wherein young women will come in and try out for the “part” of Aoyama’s wife. They won’t know what’s going on, and Aoyama can pick whichever one meets all of his criteria. In so doing, Aoyama comes across Asami, a shy, but well-spoken former ballerina whose apparent emotional depth is fascinating to him. As he grows closer to her, however, he starts to uncover some disturbing facts about her past, and realizes that maybe she’s not who she says she is.

Audition is a very important movie to me. Not only is it my favorite horror film of all time, but it’s also the first screenplay I ever wrote. Seriously. When I was fifteen, I spent a summer penning an English language adaptation of the story, in the hopes of learning how to write screenplays. With hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best film to use as a learning tool, seeing as how it has an extremely unusual structure, but still. It was instrumental in my development as a filmmaker. And I’m not the only one. Despite being made for a minuscule budget, and not even having a wide theatrical release when it came out back in 1999, Audition has acquired a huge following over the years, and has influenced several mainstream horror directors, including James Wan, Eli Roth, and the Soskia Sisters. Quentin Tarantino even listed it as one of the 20 best films that came out since he started making movies. And when you watch it, you can understand why. This is a hauntingly beautiful film. The camerawork, the use of color and music, and the acting are superb. And like the best horror films, it’s not just focused on getting the audience to jump. As a matter of fact, part of what makes Audition so unique is how, for the first half; it’s not a horror movie at all. There are no jump scares. There’s no creepy music. Nothing about it leaves you feeling spooked or uneasy. The whole thing comes off as a quiet, slow, even somewhat cheesy romance. Which is why many people have pushed the theory that the latter half of the film, where things get considerably darker and more horrific, is actually an elaborate dream sequence; a manifestation of Aoyama’s guilt over having deceived Asami. This theory is supported by the fact that the midpoint of the film, the moment where it moves from romance to horror, involves Aoyama and Asami falling asleep in each other’s arms. Now it’s worth mentioning that the film’s director, Takashi Miike, has denied this theory, stating that everything that happens in the second half is real, but that doesn’t matter. Art, by virtue of being art, can be interpreted in multiple ways, besides the author’s original intention, and, even if what Miike says is true, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a truly haunting horror film. It sticks with you, long after you’ve finished watching it. It gets you to think, and question your own views, not just of gender, but reality itself. And for that, I’ve got to give it props.

Now, as important as Audition is to me, I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with it. A large part of this has to do with the fact that no one can agree on whether or not it can be described as feminist. On the one hand, people have argued that it shows a sexist man, Aoyama, getting punished for his sins by a woman. On the other hand, people have pointed out how the woman dishing out the punishment, Asami, is a creepy, psychotic murderer, and not at all someone for girls to look up to. It’s also worth mentioning that the novel this was based off of, which I have read, is unambiguously misogynistic, and is much more interested in exploring the gaps between generations than addressing systemic sexism. And, as I’ve said before on this blog, many of Takashi Miike’s other films have been criticized for their inclusion of rape, and other forms of violence against women. So when you take all that into consideration, it’s hard to see this as any kind of women power manifesto. And yet, I can’t unequivocally call it sexist, because there are a ton of good messages about gender, and the way we view relationships, in this film. As a matter of fact, I actually think this movie has gotten better, and considerably more relevant, over the years. Not only do it’s explorations of men in positions of power using that power to sexually exploit women feel extremely poignant in the era of #MeToo, but the whole conceit of this film, the audition, speaks to our modern culture of online dating. Aoyama uses the fake casting call to pick someone who meets all his criteria for what a perfect spouse is. But, the truth is, we do that whenever we go onto OkCUpid, or Tinder, or any other dating app, and insert our preferred age range, body type, or ethnicity into the search bar. All of us try to find the perfect partner, and use whatever means are available, to shrink the dating pool. And, very often, we are shallow, and are cruel, when we do that. And the worst part is, we aren’t necessarily trying to be. Most people, if you ask them, will tell you that sexism is bad. But that doesn’t change the fact that many men, and even some women, exhibit sexist behavior when viewing potential partners. The film captures this quite well. Aoyama, at his heart, is not a bad man. He’s a good father, and was always faithful to his wife. He’s just lonely, and has a very specific idea of what his ideal partner is. Is that idea unrealistic, and degrading to most women? Sure. And if you buy into the dream theory, which I, personally, do, then he knows this. All the horrific, and bizarre visions he has are manifestations of his guilt over having lied to a woman that wants nothing but to please him. And as creepy as Asami is in the latter half, none of what she does is her fault. She is a byproduct of a sexist, misogynistic society that has constantly belittled, abused, and told her that she needs to be better; she needs to be a man’s idea of perfection. Of course she snapped. Any sane person would. And yet, society continues to tell women to strive for perfection, and tells men that they are entitled to it, and, the truth is, it’s poisonous. And the film knows that. Everything about the first half, the slow pace, the cheesy romantic music, the fact that their whole relationship is built on lies, is there to show us how artificial, and unrealistic such expectations are. So when that second half hits, we fully understand how toxic, how truly harmful these expectations men have for women, are.

Guys, what can I say? Audition isn’t just a great horror film. It’s a great film. Not only is it well acted and superbly shot, but it really gets under your skin, and forces you to confront the worst aspects of yourself, like the best movies do.