Sorry about the lateness of this post. I didn’t even hear about this movie when it first came out. I only discovered it recently, but boy am I glad I did. It’s not just a good horror flick; it’s got a deep meaning, once you find the key to access it. Besides reading the few posts here, I also read all 21 pages of reviews about it over at www.IMDB.com (Internet Movie Data Base). And while the majority of people enjoyed it, so to speak; very few of them even came close to understanding its message. So since no one else saw it this way, I may be way off base. But it makes perfect sense to me; so I’m glad to share it.
Spoiler Warning: This isn’t a review of the film for those who haven’t seen it yet. It’s an analysis of the film’s psychological meanings for those who have seen it already. Spoilers ahead: You’ve been warned.
The film doesn’t EVER shows us the real Asami. Neither the submissive girl at the beginning, nor the psychotic fiend at the end is really her. All we are ever seeing is Aoyama’s own perceptions of her in each phase of the relationship; perceptions which are not real but instead are colored by his desires and guilt and then projected onto Asami.
It helps in understanding the meaning of the film if you first understand the symbols used.
Consuming Alcohol represents having a blurred view of reality: The two men are drinking when they discuss their skewed, old-fashioned views of how a woman should behave. Aoyama is drinking when he is reviewing the resumes; spilling directly on Asami’s resume shows that his view of her specifically is unreliable. Also he is usually drinking each time we see him thinking about her. Even just before the torture scene he is drinking, what we are to believe is a poisoned drink, showing that even that view of her is not accurate.
Feet represent adultery or fornication through the metaphor of “running around”. Removing the feet then represents preventing infidelity.
A Tongue represents telling lies, usually; can also be just talking in general.
An Ear represents listening to someone; a missing ear, then, is not hearing what they are saying.
A Finger represents touching; typically physical or sexual abuse, but also may be intimacy.
As the film opens we see Aoyama completely lost in his emotions due to the death of his wife. It is only the appearance of his son that brings him back to stability. In effect, it is his relationship with his son that “saves” him emotionally.
He does not recognize that women have the same feelings that men have. This is indicated by the secretary who keeps announcing that she is leaving to get married, then waits for him to give a reaction that doesn’t come. She’s wanting him to be happy for her, because she has worked for him a long time and cares about what he thinks. But he has never noticed her other than as a worker that’s there to do a job. Her feelings, if she has any, are insignificant. Likewise, in his discussion with his best friend about what kind of girl to choose, he likens it to picking out a car.
After he has been widowed for seven years, it is at last his son who suggests that he enter another emotional relationship. Since his son was once his savior and remains the focus of his life, he has put his son on a pedestal and listens to his advice. Their relationship is not a traditional one where the son always defers to his father; instead the father is submissive to the son, even though it should be the other way around. This is shown when the son tells the father to do the dishes and the father complies; when the son has a guest come over and the father gives up his dinner for the guest; and when the son enters the father’s room without knocking.
Once he decides to look for a new wife and agrees to the ruse of an audition, he starts having feelings of guilt which begin to interfere with his desires; at first subtly, then more pronounced. He expresses several times that he feels like he is doing something wrong and even feels like he’s committing a crime. He’s not a bad man; he doesn’t want to deceive anyone. He also can’t bear the look of his deceased wife from her photo as he peruses the audition resumes. He still feels a sense of commitment to her, even though she’s gone. His guilt is growing both from stepping out on his wife and from holding a sham audition.
Although we never get to see the “real Asami”, we can gather from the dialogue that she was as she said – an aspiring ballerina who had an unhappy childhood and whose career was cut short by a tragic event. But Aoyama never sees the real Asami because he starts projecting onto her his image of the “perfect partner” from the very start. As he reads her resume, her story that her hopes were ended tragically and she now feels dead inside serves to elicit sympathy. As he remembers his own loss he makes her into a tragic heroine. He then falls in love with his created image of her as the “perfect Asami” without ever having met her and knowing nothing about her.
When Asami comes into the audition room we cannot see the real her, we only see Aoyama’s projection. His image of her is a sweet, shy, submissive, properly formal, “good girl”. During the questions that his best friend Yasuhisa asks, we hear the real girl’s answers, but Aoyama isn’t paying any attention to them, he is only attentive to his projection. When he finally talks, he doesn’t really ask her much; instead he does most of the talking, telling her how wise she is for her age. Her only responses to him are, “Yes” and “Thank you”. These were the real girl’s responses. We can hear her throughout the film, we just can’t see the real her. Every image is colored by Aoyama’s psyche.
Each time he calls her or even just thinks about calling her and we see her waiting by the telephone, we are not really seeing her in her apartment, we are seeing his imagination of her. As he calls her he is imagining that she is doing nothing but waiting by the phone for his call. When Aoyama begins thinking about meeting someone through the planned audition, even before the first resumes arrive, he “sees” a girl sitting in her room waiting for him; but at this point she is not yet defined enough to have features, those are put in place only after he sees Asami’s photograph. This image of a submissive girl just sitting and waiting for him to summon her is merely another manifestation of his old-fashioned, male-dominant outlook.
After dating a few times they go away for a weekend together. Although the weekend was his idea, once there he imagines that he is the stuttering innocent who doesn’t have sex on his mind and that she is the one who initiates the sex. After their encounter he falls asleep and most of what follows is only a dream. He is dreaming from the time he kisses her till he wakes up and finds he still has his foot. He’s awake just a few minutes before going to sleep again. He then dreams again till the end of the film. The story told in the dream state is choppy and jumps a bit.
Prior to consummating their relationship, the real Asami admits to Aoyama that she was molested as a child. Previously she had only said she’d been injured, but now she wants him to know the truth before proceeding any further and for him to decide if he can accept it. She bares herself to him, figuratively, and reveals to him her scars; and he tells her it doesn’t matter. When he had first heard of her abdominal injury he thought it was related to her dancing, so he felt sympathetic; but now that he hears it was a sexual encounter, he starts becoming disillusioned. His image of her begins changing to the opposite of goodness. Both her confession and his own act with her cause a change in his view of her from a perfect Asami to an “evil Asami”.
Although Asami is young and beautiful, she has not pursued finding a boyfriend because she knows that once men find out about her past they’ll reject her. But she recognizes that it’s hard for a girl to live alone. So she takes a chance that perhaps an older man might not be so picky, especially if he’s getting a beautiful, young girl in return… She’s also encouraged to take a chance with Aoyama since he’s actively pursuing her. But she has guessed wrong: he is picky and wants a “good girl”. She had tried to let him know early on by telling him her past in a coded way, by saying she’d been abused and had received an abdominal injury. But he was blinded by his projection of the perfect Asami and didn’t comprehend what she was saying. His best friend, however, understood what she meant and so kept trying to dissuade him from the girl.
After they have sex and Aoyama begins dreaming about her admission, he at first thinks about losing her. He even recalls his best friend’s warnings to forget about her. But then he insists that, “No”, he still wants her. However, as his subconscience takes over, he begins examining everything she’s told him and the details start coming apart and recombining in a more negative picture. As he thinks of the sexual assault he suspects the dance teacher. The teacher’s feet are prominent, symbolizing his debauchery; but they are deformed, showing that his sexual interests are perverted. Aoyama at first imagines an old lecher who has taken advantage of a small child; he crawled between her legs and left her scarred for life. But as he continues to consider this he begins to think that she may not have been so young and helpless after all when it happened. The dance teacher asks him if he has talked to her (tongue), heard her (ear), and touched her (finger). Next, as he thinks of her employer, the imagined dialogue with the fellow employee makes that whole story “go to pieces”. As he considers everything she’s told him there are too many parts, and some of them don’t fit together into a proper whole; there are details left over, figuratively. The scene culminates in the image of the severed tongue flapping around, which for him signifies lying. He comes to think that everything she has said has been lies and deceptions.
The missing record producer and missing bar madam are two of the pieces he can’t make fit. These were just facts thrown into the story to allow for misdirection. We’re supposed to think that it’s the record producer in the sack and that the bar madam was murdered and dismembered. But actually it’s just coincidence that the record producer left town and only because of insufficient detail that he can’t find where Asami worked. Aoyama’s best friend only says he can’t track down the record producer and the bar madam; that doesn’t mean anything has happened to them, it’s only a lack of information. But his imagination turns these things into pieces that don’t fit her story; so she must be evil and lying. The extra pieces of the dismembered body are described as three fingers, an ear, and a tongue (remember those?). That there are “three” fingers is a product of him imagining that she was touched by three people – her Uncle; her Stepfather; and either her Aunt if we’re considering any abuse, or her record producer if it only refers to sexual abuse. Personally I think it refers to the Aunt, and that the record producer had very little involvement with her before leaving town for unknown reasons.
He is also led to question just what it is he is looking for in a woman. A succession of images of different girls attacking him sexually – an aggressive Asami, his secretary, and even his son’s young girlfriend – all serve to expose to him his conflicting ideas of women’s purity, innocence, and sexuality.
His changed image of Asami is again indicated by his consumption of alcohol, in what we think is a poisoned drink. His picture of her has now been poisoned and takes a very dark turn as he begins to imagine the evil Asami torturing him and destroying every part of his life little by little. He is experiencing the pain that emotional attachment can bring: loss of freedom, visceral torment, and submission to another’s will. Evil Asami is both the manifestation of his disillusionment with Asami who is now seen as not perfect, and the embodiment of his own guilty conscience which is punishing him for lying and running around, and his attitude towards women.
He comes back to reality momentarily when he wakes up with a start, finds he’s still in bed with her, and to his relief still has his foot. He realizes that his perception of her has changed, but before he can figure out what to do she announces that she will accept his marriage proposal. He now feels trapped in a relationship with someone whom he no longer feels to be a perfect partner. So he goes back to sleep and dreams again, trying to find a resolution to his problem.
Prior to their weekend together he had always pictured her in dazzling white clothes and with a submissive demeanor, symbolizing her purity and goodness. But after he slept with her and after her admission, he could no longer consider her “pure”. So he began picturing her in black leather and with a very dominant personality; the very opposite of what he considered a “good girl”. He still didn’t see the real her; but now instead of projecting on her an image of goodness, he began projecting on her an image of wickedness. His imagination put pictures to all of the negative metaphors of his guilty conscience – telling lies (cut off tongue), tasting pain (syringe), feeling it in his stomach (needles), a playboy that “runs around” (cut off feet), searching for beauty and youth (eyes), losing his head, and so on. When the negative images first start making themselves felt, he tries to run and escape; but he is literally tripped up by the sack on the floor. He finally opens it to see what it is and is shocked by what’s inside.
The sack represents his own emotional feelings toward Asami. It first appears when he considers calling her for a second date. Initially he is able to keep his emotions under tight control; completely bagged up, so to speak. But as he becomes more interested in this girl, his emotions wake up and start working to get out. When he calls her and the phone rings too long, he imagines she’s deliberately waiting and his emotions jerk; but then she answers and the sack lies still. Each time his emotions grow we see the bag move. Later when he finally opens the bag and releases it we see a tortured man who has been stripped of almost all his humanity, completely enslaved to the whims of this woman no matter how sadistic and evil she may be. He cannot tell lies, or run around, or touch other women. In other words he is emasculated.
He is totally trapped by his emotions and powerless to free himself from this girl, despite projecting onto her a facade of great evil. Although he is now completely disenchanted about her purity, he is already ensnared by his emotional attachment to her. He will do anything she wants, even to the point of being treated like a dog and lapping up her regurgitated lies while she pats him on the head like a pet.
Only after he’s realized this do his thoughts turn to his son. His son saved him from emotional helplessness once before, perhaps he can do it again. As Aoyama concentrates on his son, he appears. At first it seems the evil Asami may destroy him too; but their encounter is interrupted by Aoyama waking up briefly. When the dream begins again, Shigehiko and Asami battle it out in Aoyama’s head to see which will prevail. At last Aoyama finds his love for Shigehiko is stronger than his attachment to Asami, thus he is able to break free of her domination.
He had become completely enamored of this girl despite his assertions early on that he was mature enough and smart enough not to be taken in by emotions. But as things progressed, neither his love for his pet, nor his love for his best friend, nor even his love for his dead wife were enough to prevent him from getting ensnared once he had decided to have an emotional relationship again. He had been lonely too long. Only his love for his son was strong enough to free him from his false projections and help him become emotionally stable again.
Once he had killed the image of the evil Asami he was able to hear for the third time the conversation from their second date. The first time he heard it, it was colored by his perfect image of her, and her family was rich and happy; the second time he heard it, it was colored by his evil image of her, and her family was abusive and hateful; but the third time, he actually heard the real her. And he comes to realize that there is a real person behind his projected images; someone with real feelings, someone just as vulnerable as he. As they had prepared to sleep together, her request that he “love only her” was seen by him as her attempt to assert control over him, and his mind rebelled against that. In actuality it was just a plea for him not to hurt her. Finally, once he got a grip on his emotional state, he heard their conversation one more time. In the third version he finally comes to understand the meaning of their relationship – we take a chance, and we suffer a lot, but we survive. They both had taken a chance on the relationship, and both had exposed themselves to potential suffering at the hands of the other, but if they respected each other they could survive.
All the time that he’s having the second dream, he is still with her in bed on their weekend trip. But the film doesn’t show him awakening from the dream and doesn’t tell us how he will resolve this in his waking life. Will he go ahead and marry her, or will he dump her? How he will now handle the real Asami isn’t told. The story is about how Aoyama’s “projected views” of Asami changed as their relationship progressed and how his feelings of guilt were made manifest then resolved. He goes from seeing women (Asami) as objects meant only to serve men submissively, to seeing that they are also people with their own needs and feelings; and those needs are similar to his own – the desire for companionship, love, and respect. We don’t see what he’ll do with her when he wakes up, but we know that he will at last see the “real Asami” and will recognize that she’s more than just a servant or a pet.