Directed by Miike Takashi, starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura and Tetsu Sawaki. Showing at the Irish Film Centre, Dublin.

Art-house gem or unadulterated horror excess? This is the moot point dividing audiences around the globe as Miike Takashi's 'Audition' arrives on a raging storm of controversy and debate. So, is the hype justified? Is it art? Is it unwatchable? The answer is 'no', on all counts.

Aoyama is a 42-year-old widower. Financially secure with his own video production company, his life revolves around his business and his son Shigehiko. On a personal level, however, Aoyama is a lonely man. Seven years after the death of his wife, he yearns to find a partner who will accompany him on his journey through middle age and beyond. His friend and colleague Yoshikawa suggests a way that he can: use a fake casting session to assess the relative merits of various young women as potential 'wife' material for Aoyama. From the applicants, Aoyama is immediately enchanted by Asami, a demure and mysteriously alluring ex-dancer. Yoshikawa, however, is uneasy and suspects there's more to Asami than meets the eye...

For the first hour, 'Audition' takes an empathetic look at the life of a middle-aged widower. Well scripted, well paced and well acted, it gently probes a complexity inherent in the human condition: letting go of the past and embracing the present and future. Aoyama is a character we can all recognise, conscious of his loneliness but wary of doing anything about it. When he does finally act, 'Audition' ill advisedly veers off into a nightmare world of paranoia, violence and sadism.

If you like your films light and fluffy, if you are squeamish, or if you just want a gentle slice of popcorn entertainment, 'Audition' is not the film for you. Ultimately, it's hard to escape the feeling that the film's violence is magnified so as to increase its shock factor. The grisly finale will undoubtedly linger in the memory but in the end, it just comes off as a case of too much, too late.

Tom Grealis