‘Audition’ by Ryū Murakami **

Ryu Murakami’s ‘Audition,’ Paperback; 2009.

In part due to my recent declaration to renew my avid horror genre reads, I imagined it would be the appropriate starting point to begin with Murakami’s Audition, published originally in 1997 and further translated by Ralph McCarthy in later 2009. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed with Murakami’s story. Although somewhat successful in its vile and repulsive imagery – thus rendering the isolation of the story almost perfected in its surrealism and horrification – it almost felt too flat in its execution. The plot follows middle-aged Aoyama, a documentary film-maker in Tokyo after the tragic death of his wife, Ryoko. During quite a heartfelt procession of overcoming said tragic passing, he is abruptly encouraged by his teenage son Shige to remarry and the thought begins to consume his mind. He feels compelled to find the ‘ideal’ wife, which further prompts him to – with encouragement from his fellow colleague Yoshikawa – hold ‘auditions’ for a fabricated movie idea in order to come into close contact with a splurge of females and therefore potential spouses.

As morally questionable as this sounds, it is this plotline which acts as the main drive for the novel and subsequently leads to the enamouring of Aoyama with a 24-year-old woman named Yamasaki, who seems a little ‘highly-strung’ and troubled. We are informed of several foreshadowing elements surrounding Yamasaki’s supposed past, yet Aoyama is blinded by his insatiable lust to care for this girl who seems to have undergone such suffering.  Inevitably, it is this error which causes the horrifying and most tragic cataclysm.

As most know, I am an undeniable fan of Japanese literature, and find it infinitely engaging. Similarly to film, I find Asian horror emphatically more chilling than Western, which is why such titles tend to surface among my favourites in both horror literature and cinema. Albeit a debatable genre, I personally believe horror should have the capacity to scare through the metaphoric ‘cold hand on the shoulder’ affect, in place of somewhat comical splattering of gore and guts. Usually I am satisfied by Japanese tales as they tend to either substitute gore for eerie material – few may recount the long-haired ghost girl from the Ring and the similarly begrudged woman in The Grudge – or justify such by disclosing severe psychological issues behind.  Audition is, quite simply, a psychosexual thriller, so although we are prone to repugnant amounts of explicit torture, Murakami has nevertheless attempted to employ some narrative behind it with regards to Yamasaki’s backstory. Yet this never appears to lead anywhere, and personally I felt quite offended by how little we are told of Yamasaki’s intentions.  I squirmed during moments I felt when the novel appeared to tread slightly among misogynistic waters, with the lunacy of Yamasaki and little attention to other female characters (let alone Aoyama’s forgiven yet blatant infidelity to his previous wife) adding a darker and objectifying tone to the novel. Two other titles of Murakami’s, Coin Locker Babies and In the Miso Soup are on my ‘to read’ lists as other pieces of Japanese horror, but to suffice to say  I am a little underwhelmed and slightly unnerved by the prospect of reading them. Perhaps I will look more towards other Japanese horror novelists to satisfy my appetite for the spooky.