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This Japanese Slow-Burn Horror Movie Is Super Underrated

For a good 100 years now, Japanese cinema has been an all-around treasure trove, offering up some of the world's very best movies in any genre you can name. However, the one kind of film that Japan might be better at producing than any other country in the world is horror. From silent masters like Teinosuke Kinugaza to the midcentury Golden Age of kaiju to modern arthouse classics like "House" and "Tetsuo: The Iron Man," J-horror casts a shadow as long as the medium of film itself. In the 21st century, that has allowed the genre to usher in an era of unprecedented worldwide popularity, with the biggest Hollywood horror flicks now routinely taking cues from their competitors across the Pacific.

If there's one man the J-horror boom is synonymous with, it's Takashi Miike. In fact, there's scarcely a genre Miike isn't known for: The Japanese auteur has helmed over 100 movies over his 30-year career, oftentimes releasing them at a rate of six or seven per year. Those movies have run the gamut from shock horror to straightforward drama to family-friendly adventure and back. This breadth of experience made him the ideal person to put together a project like "Audition," the slow-burn horror film you need to see.

If you haven't heard of "Audition" — and considering how criminally underappreciated it is among mainstream horror audiences, there's a good chance you haven't — here's what you should know: It is, simply put, the most effective slow-burn horror movie ever. There's no other cinematic experience quite like it. Read on to find out why.

Audition successfully pretends to be a low-key drama for nearly an hour

Not only is Takeshi Miike given to making movies in multiple genres, he's also good at each of those genres. So when "Audition" begins, there's no reason not to take it at face value as a serious, serene shōshimin-eiga romantic drama. Through the story of middle-aged widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) and the mock audition his film producer friend (Jun Kunimura) holds to find him a new wife, Miike masterfully emulates all the moves of shōshimin-eiga, carefully and sensitively fleshing out the relationship between Aoyama and Asami (Eihi Shiina), the strange, lonely, mysterious woman to whom he takes a proper shine. Their story has emotional tension, but it also has genuine depth and even poetry. It never feels like mere set-up.

But of course, the first thing "Audition" is remembered for isn't its romantic sensitivity. In the second half, after Aoyama and Asami's relationship has been well-established, the rifts between them become greater, and the mystery surrounding Asami deepens. At first, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking this is just a darker, more challenging drama than usual. But then ... things happen. And then some more things. And then, oh my, even more things after that.

"Audition" doesn't just become a horror movie; it becomes an outright traumatic experience, one of the most relentless and grueling nightmares in the history of J-horror — and in ways that build directly, horrendously, on the seeming low-key drama of the first half. Everyone who sees it comes out either in total awe, or ready to call the police. If you have a stomach for boundary-pushing horror, it's simply unmissable. Just make sure to avoid all the spoilers.