Aoyama is a 40-something-year-old widower. His wife died from a very rapid onset cancer leaving him to raise his son, Shige, alone. But by age 15, even Shige wants his dad to remarry. Aoyama reluctantly agrees and enlists his producer friend, Yoshikawa, to help. Ever the businessman, Yoshikawa decides to hold a literal audition for the role of his wife under the false pretense of creating a new movie
We go through the entire process in which a fake script is written, casting calls are held, and many young actresses are brought. Aoyama and Yoshikawa scrutinize each for the perfect potential wife. Aoyama feels awkward about the ruse, until he meets Asami Yamasaki.
Beautiful, gentile, and mature she is the perfect Japanese woman. At only 24 she seems made for Aoyama. The fake movie is eventually scrapped using a fake excuse, but Aoyama and Asami continue seeing each other. There seems to be a real spark that Obama hasn’t felt since his wife died, and the feeling is mutual. So much so, that Asami eventually begins to confide long-held secrets of her past.
In particular, she reveals that when her father died, she had giggled at his funeral in an awkward moment. Her stepfather then began abusing her, thinking she had a major mental disorder. After all who laughs at their own father’s funeral? However, Asami seems well-adjusted and somehow, even a better person for it.
Unfortunately for Aoyama, he’s falling in love with the character she auditioned as, not the real Asami. Even worse for him, she eventually discovers that the whole audition process was an elaborate ruse to find a new wife and decides to punish him accordingly.
Aoyama is drugged with a sedative and wakes up unable to move, completely paralyzed. Asami reveals that she isn’t as well adjusted as she let on. That past abuse damaged her in ways she’s unable to hide for long. In specific, she despises being lied to and has inflicted cruel tortures on the men in her life for this offense. Asami demonstrates her twisted sense of justice on Aoyama’s pet dog.
A warning to all animal lovers, if you find animal cruelty upsetting, this is not the book for you. Even worse for Aoyama, the drug she poisoned him left him paralyzed, but his entire nervous system still functions. He watches in mute horror as she pulls out a sharp blade, planning on dismembering him limb from limb.
There is a long-running theme in Japanese horror of meeting the perfect woman, only to discover a monster lurks beneath her beautiful mask. Old horror folk tales like Yuki-onna, the Snow Woman, exemplify this trope. It’s somehow more comfortable to be threatened by an outside evil, like ghosts or curses. However, when the evil comes from someone close to you, the horror is even more disturbing, like waking up beside a giant black widow spider.
Audition is a short novel but it packs a punch, even though the horror element doesn’t come until the end. It also served as the basis for the much more famous 1999 film directed by Takashi Miike which is also a very disturbing watch. If you’re looking for a horror novel this Halloween that is more unsettling and disturbing, without ghosts and monsters, you might want to try out Audition. However, be forewarned, it’s not for the faint of heart.