Audition by Ryu Murakami

My first introduction to Ryu Murakami came not with his books, but when I saw the film adaptation of Audition. That movie was a massive turning point for me in a lot of ways—it was my introduction to director Takashi Miike and it sparked my interest in both horror movies and Japanese cinema. If I’d never seen that movie, I may have never developed an interest in Japanese cinema that eventually led to me moving to Japan.

Despite the film adaptation enjoying immense popularity in the west, and despite other Murakami novels being translated into English, for reasons that have never been made clear to me, Audition went un-translated for around a decade.

A year ago, I finally found it was translated and put it on my pile of books I’ve yet to read (a pile that never appears to shrink). By the time I read Audition, I had already read another of Murakami’s books, In The Miso Soup, and absolutely loved it. So given my love of the film and my appreciation of Murakami’s work, I was really excited to read this book.

Audition focuses on Aoyama, a documentary producer whose wife had died several years earlier of cancer. When his teenage son, Shige, tells him he should remarry, Aoyama seriously considers it. He talks to his friend Yoshikawa, who works in television and film, and says he wishes he could interview several different women and then choose his ideal one. Yoshikawa suggests having an audition.

Aoyama is immediately infatuated with twenty-four-year-old Asami when he reads her application and essay. A former ballet dancer, Asami suffered a hip injury that forced her to give up her passion. When Aoyama meets her in the audition, it’s difficult for him to keep himself contained. He starts dating Asami and discovers that she suffered a lot of abuse as a child. Asami has a few other dark secrets, however.

If you’ve seen the film, you already know the story. The movie is a very faithful adaptation with only some minor differences. Some scenes take place in different locations compared to the novel and the book also has some additional scenes not included in the film (and the film plays around with the chronology a bit in such a way that it leaves the ending a bit ambiguous—that ambiguity is nowhere in the novel).

For the most part, the movie is not only a faithful adaptation of the novel, but also does a better job of telling the story. This is particularly seen in Asami’s sinister nature and a lot of that is due to actress Eihi Shiina’s amazing ability to switch between vulnerable and innocent to seductively deadly, sometimes at the drop of a hat. The novel doesn’t do as good of a job—in the movie, you know there’s something darkly unsettling about Asami. In the novel, you mostly feel sympathy for her. And the climatic scene is not as nail-bitingly intense as it is in the film (if you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not saying another word about it).

But there are ways in which the novel goes beyond the movie. One of these is in the depiction of Aoyama. For the most part in the film, Aoyama is seen as almost a complete victim. There is some suggestion that he’s not exactly the most moral guy in the film, but Murakami makes it very clear in his book that Aoyama is not necessarily a good guy. You sympathize with him, yes, but the novel makes no secret of the fact that Aoyama has no problem getting sex and even pays for it as well. And he was doing so while his wife was still alive (presumably while she was suffering from cancer). So there’s a sense of vindication with Asami’s actions, even if the event which sets her off is an extreme over-reaction.

Despite this, Murakami does a great job of portraying Aoyama’s love for Asami. You never get the sense that Aoyama might just be using Asami for sex—it’s obvious that he is deeply, passionately in love with her. And it makes the ending all the more sad—for both of the characters.

If you’ve seen the movie, I encourage you to read the book. And if you’ve never experienced either, you should definitely rectify both those.

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