"Kiri, kiri, kiri..." In English, "deeper, deeper, deeper." A slender female, pale and fragile as a ceramic doll, buries three long needles deeper and deeper into the eyelids of her captive, a man whom she has paralyzed with poison and who must helplessly endure his torture. He lies on the floor, incapable of voluntary movement, though his nervous system is functioning at full capacity. He can feel everything. The eyes, the woman tells him, are very sensitive to pain. Yeah. No shit. You can almost feel the needles drilling into your eyes. She produces a wire, a single filament, almost invisible. Wire can cut through bone and skin as easily as slicing through beef, she says. She giggles like an embarrassed schoolgirl. Her titters do not alleviate the tension. She places the wire above the man's foot and pulls. A ring of blood encircles his ankle. There's a sound, soft as a sigh, as wire cuts through skin.
This is a scene from Audition, a climactic culmination of terror in a film by prolific Japanese director Takeshi Miike (see story, page 63). Ironically, in a country where most of us have very little to fear in the way of serious carnage and dismemberment (compared with, say, Liberians), we're also some of the most jaded horror-filmgoers on the globe. We doggedly fill theaters to get our rocks off watching The Cave or Saw II. We slog out, unfulfilled. But Japanese filmmakers know what's actually frightening—not the unknown, but the unknowable. The incomprehensible.
Audition, which was released in an "uncut special edition" DVD this summer, plays out like a nightmare, incoherent, jumping between reality, dreams, hallucinations, perceived flashbacks. The viewer loses track of where he or she is and becomes vulnerable. And that's exactly when Miike gives us a close-up of a severed tongue flopping beneath a chair in an abandoned alehouse. You can trust a culture that considers the raw writhing roe of a live sea urchin a delicacy to produce horror films that make you groan out loud and that turn your genitals to marmalade.