One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie.
It’s one of those scenes whose pronouns get italics; that scene, the one at the end of Takashi Miike’s Audition in which the vengeful Asami (Eihi Shiina), wooed by Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) after an ersatz audition, pierces her lover’s skin with needles and slices off his left foot. She describes what she is about to do to him in calm, sweet tones (“This is a very painful spot”), and her coos are warnings to us too; this is what I’m about to do, are you going to watch? At the climax of the unflinching scene, Asami winds a wire saw around his ankle then swipes happily until, with a flourish, it’s off.
For a moment, the camera shifts, and we are outside looking in on Asami through a sliding door. From here, we can’t see Aoyama’s face, but we can see his decor—the Mark Rothko print, the crystal decanter of Scotch, the leather recliner—and at the center of these middle-class comforts, Asami crouches in her leather dominatrix smock. In this shot, we see Audition’s sneaky irony; she was cast as the demure wife but showed up on the day as a ruthless reaper.
From outside, we can’t hear Aoyama’s moans or see his agonized face, and the whole scene is made somehow small and flat by the window’s frame. Asami looks at the foot for a second, then picks it up and tosses it towards us. It hits the window with a dull, almost anticlimactic, thud. In the unbearably quiet tension of the theatre, we laughed. Like a slapstick bit, which teeters between apprehension and levity, the moment stokes our unease and then allows a sliver of relief. Freud theorized that release is at the heart of comedy, that when we laugh, we get to vent pent-up desires and anxieties. Audition is an exercise in pent-up anxiety; it’s the most a film has ever felt like clicking up the lift hill of a rollercoaster. After the ride, we laugh at our anguished expressions in the post-coaster photo, just like we laugh when Miike pauses the horror for a moment of gruesome comedy.