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This is a film that has to be rescued for all moviegoers.
I saw "The Face of Another" (Tanin no kao) at the National Gallery of Art's series, "A New Wave in Japan: 1955-1974," and was mesmerized by this "elegantly spooky and enigmatic examination of identity." This is the third of four Hiroshi Teshigahara (director)/Kobo Abe (writer)/ Toru Takemistu (composer) collaborations. They have reached nearly the same perfection in the fusion of image, sound, and subject in this work as in their brilliant work, "Woman in the Dunes."
A businessman (Tatsuya Nakadai), whose face has been scarred in an industrial fire, is receiving psychotherapy from a psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira). He succeeds in persuading the psychiatrist to make a mask for him, amazingly lifelike but completely different from his own face. Soon after being fitted for the mask, he tries to seduce his wife (Machiko Kyo) and succeeds; she promptly falls for the handsome stranger. He becomes angry at her weakness for a handsome man, but she claims she was aware all along that he was her husband and believed that both were just masquerading together as most couples usually do in different ways. She tells him that it is not she but he who has worried excessively about his appearance and who has spoiled his relationship with others. Strangely enough, his personality seemingly begins to change after he puts on the mask as if the mask has influenced his personality. And, he comes to realize that his new identity does not enable him to reintegrate into society after all.
The film also has a touching subplot. A good-natured young woman (Miki Irie, now Mrs. Seiji Ozawa), the left side of whose face is beautiful, but the right side of which is disfigured, has been hurt by others' inquisitive eyes and insults. She has been shunned and never been treated as a lady by any man other than her older brother. One day, she and her brother take a trip to a seaside resort, and in the hotel, she asks him to make love to her, hiding from him the intention of killing herself the next morning. He accepts her surprising request. During the lovemaking, he kisses her on the right side of her face. Her brother is the only man who can understand her pain and solitude and who can love the ugliest part of her appearance because of his deep love for her.
After seeing this film, questions arise. What is Identity? How is it established? What is the relationship among Identity, Personality, and Physical Appearance? Does Personality determine Physical Appearance? Or, does Physical Appearance determine Personality? Abe and Teshigahara seem to challenge our common beliefs about this.
The story is easy to follow, unlike "Woman in the Dunes." The dialogue is sophisticated enough as to be quotable.
Takemitsu's musical score is outstanding. He has created a sharp contrast between sweet, sad music, which represents dance music for the masquerade, and deep, eerie "music," which represents the reality of faceless people.
I hope this film will enjoy a revival and come to video or DVD in the near future.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the Japanese New Wave may not have been as well-known or as
influential a movement as the French Nouvelle Vague, it yielded a mass
of talented, independent and original film-makers spearheaded by Kaneto
Shindo - of ONIBABA (1964) fame - and including Shohei Imamura, Yasuzo
Masumura, Toshio Matsumoto, Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda, Seijun
Suzuki, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Koji Wakamatsu.
Until now, like most film buffs, I had only known Hiroshi Teshigahara through his one undisputed international critical success, WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964), which had also made him the first ever Asian film-maker to be nominated for a Best Direction Academy Award. Even so, I have long cherished the thought of watching more of his admittedly small oeuvre (just 8 feature films in 40 years!) and now, thanks to the U.K.'s "Masters Of Cinema" DVD label, I caught up with the films Teshigahara made just before and after tasting international success.
As a result of WOMAN IN THE DUNES, Teshigahara was here allowed to use for the first time in his career two of Japan's biggest box-office stars of the time, Tatsuya Nakadai, a fixture of the second half of Kurosawa's career and Machiko Kyo, star of RASHOMON (1950) and UGETSU (1953); the two stars from WOMAN IN THE DUNES, then - Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida - also appear in supporting roles. As with most of Teshigahara's films, Toru Takemitsu provides the impeccable musical accompaniment, suitably sinister and majestically lush as the occasion requires; Takemitsu also puts in an appearance in a lengthy bar sequence towards the middle of the film.
The story, based as were Teshigahara's first four movies, on famed Japanese writer and friend Kobo Abe's novel, deals with a businessman who, after losing his facial features in an unspecified laboratory explosion, resorts to plastic surgery and gradually starts to question his identity. The fact that he specifically asks that his new face be molded from that of a complete stranger turns out to be a fateful one: it isn't enough to fool two perceptive females who cross his path - his own wife, whom he seduces under his new identity, shattering his new-found confidence by stating that she was aware of him being her husband all along and the crazed daughter of a hotel manager (the amiable Kurosawa regular Minoru Chiaki) to which he relocates after the surgery recognizes the new tenant as the heavily-bandaged one who had previously lived there; in fact, the arrival at the hotel of the man in his different identities is filmed the same way with the exact incidents occurring each time.
The subject matter cannot but elicit comparisons with other films dealing with facial transplants and loss of identity and, in my case, I was instantly reminded of Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959; one of my favorite films) and John Frankenheimer's SECONDS (1966). Although I'd say that both these films are even better at hitting their targets, Teshigahara's film is certainly worthy of such company and, in retrospect, what differentiates it from the others is its boldly cerebral take on the material, complete with shots of such utter strangeness that they remain effortlessly imprinted in one's mind: the very first shot of the laboratory full of inanimate limbs floating in vats of water, the introduction of the main character in a sequence shot in X-ray vision(!), the eerie, inexplicable shot of the laboratory seemingly engulfed by an over-sized bundle of hair floating in space, a supporting "fictional" character (more on this later) struck by a deadly ray of atomic radiation when he draws the curtains to look upon the scene of his sister's suicide and, perhaps best of all, the haunting night-time finale in which the main character and his doctor are surrounded by a horde of "faceless" people.
It has to be said that THE FACE OF ANOTHER, as with a lot of post-war Japanese cinema, is informed by the traumatic WWII atomic bomb attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The protagonist apparently goes to watch one such film at the cinema (an occurrence given away by a short but sudden change in aspect ratio from full-frame to widescreen): it deals with a facially-scarred young woman who, after having an apparently incestuous relationship with her brother, drowns herself. The story of that film is incongruously but seamlessly interspersed within the main narrative, serving as a parallel commentary on the increasingly ambivalent actions of the Tatsuya Nakadai character.
One is hopeful for an English-subtitled DVD release of Hiroshi Teshigahara's fourth and last collaboration with Kobo Abe, THE MAN WITHOUT A MAP (1968), somewhere down the line...
movie about self perception and the bond between the mind and the body...soundtrak really set the mood for the increasing horror in the story line. Nakadai downplays his role to give an overall flawless performance. Watch for some really good lines which will undoubtedly force the viewer to start thinking right away which may distract from the plot (but hey, it's an artsy masterpiece right?)...There is a lot of experimentation in the cinematography such as a door which opens and reveals a cluster of hair in ocean tides...this effect serves to foreshadow the action but may in the view of modern audiences comes across as trying TOO hard to be an art film. I left the movie still trying to link the two parallel story lines in the film and you may too...but don't worry you get two stories for the price of one...DO NOT watch this movie in the dark even though there is nothing VISUALLY terrifying it is still a great horror film...
Teshigahara has never shied away from examining the more unsettling
dimensions of human experience. With the trilogy of full-length
collaborations with Kobo Abe, Teshigahara encapsulated the Kafkaesque
hellishness of quotidian life, the yawning, gaping chasm of emptiness
that lies beneath the veneer of stability.
The ubiquitous influence of the French absurdists/existentialists, Kafka and Dostoevsky looms large here- one is reminded most often of Sartre's "No Exit", R.D. Laing's "Knots" and Dostoevsky's "Crime And Punishment". Sartre, Laing and Abe all underline how little autonomy we really have over constituting our own identities- often, we may find that we exist only as beings-for-others, entirely 'encrusted' within personas not of our own making, but assigned to us. For Okuyama and the unnamed scarred woman, they are imprisoned in their vulgar corporeality. Met with revulsion everywhere, they come to accept ugliness as an indelible mark of their being. Trapped within the oppressive confines of flesh, they cannot evade the pity and repugnance that their countenances arouse. It is little wonder that Okuyama becomes self-lacerating and embittered.
Throughout the film, the viewer confronts how precarious identity truly is- the assumption that selves are continuous and linear from day-to-day rests entirely on the visage. The doctor's paroxysm of inspiration in the beer hall affords a glimpse into the anarchic potential of his terrible invention, one that would rend civilization asunder. Indeed, the final epiphany is particularly unnerving- "some masks come off, some don't". We all erect facades, smokescreens of self that we maintain with great effort.
Beneath the epidermis, as Okuyama discovers, is vacuity and nihility. This is likely the explanation for Okuyama's gratuitous, Raskolnikov-esquire acts of crime at the conclusion of the film- faced with the frontierless void of freedom, he desires to be apprehended and branded by society. Integration into society, after all, requires a socially-assigned, unified role, constituted by drivers licenses, serial numbers and criminal records. Without such things, Okuyama is a non-entity.
Aesthetically, the film exhibits all the rigour and poetry of Teshigahara's other work. Cocteau, Ernst and Duchamp, in particular, are notable wellsprings for the film's visual grammar. Literate, expressionistic and profoundly disorienting, this might be my favorite Teshigahara work.
A brutal commentary on self-image and the way that appearances can
change the attitude and ideals of a person that is one of the best
films I've ever seen. The way that Okuyama changes throughout the film
is incredible. He starts off as a brutally wounded man, who is afraid
to go out in public due to his horrible disfigurement. He realizes how
important looks are and all he wants is a new face so that he can blend
back into society and be with his wife again. There's no desire to be
attractive or important, he just wants to be normal. But once he gets
his new face, his attractive appearance turns him into a completely
different man. He buys flashy clothes and walks around with an attitude
of superiority and importance in a world where he is really just a
stranger. The film does a remarkable job of showing just how important
appearance truly is, even if you think you can look beyond it. This is
shown through Okuyama's wife, who pretends like she loves him even
though he is horribly disfigured, but she ends up refusing his sexual
advances due to it. Teshigahara uses bleak tones and minimalist sets as
a way to show the isolation that society creates do to it's
one-dimensional view of forming opinions on people merely due to
appearance. These settings also do a great job of focusing the viewer
on the characters instead of flashy visuals and elaborate sets.
I thought that the Psychiatrist was also a very complex character as he becomes more and more interested in his experiment with Okuyama's new face and less interested in Okuyama himself. He becomes greedy and selfish in his desire to mass produce the masks, but Okuyama's greed compels him to reject the Psychiatrist's wishes and look out merely for himself. This greed makes him a very dangerous man who is hanging on the edge of a breakdown through most of the film, until an encounter with his wife finally sets him off. It's the Psychiatrist's greed, though, that ends up being the true horror of the film. Okuyama realizes the dangerous monster that this mask has turned him into, and does the only thing he can think of to stop him from harming the world. It's the Psychiatrist's greed, though, that unleashes the beast of Okuyama into the world which leads to the abrupt and shattering finale. The paradox of a physical monster versus a psychological monster is absolutely sensational. In the beginning he is deformed on the outside, but as he becomes normal and beautiful on the outside, he ends up being a terrible monster internally. There is only one thing that I can really complain about, and that is the entire story of the "Facially scarred young woman". All of her scenes felt really out of place and added nothing to the fantastic commentary and intelligence of the plot. Everything with her was just unnecessary, but this was just a mere chink in the grand masterpiece that the film embodies as a whole.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An extraordinary, surreal drama from Hiroshi Teshigahara. After his
face is mutilated in an industrial accident, the insecure Mr. Okuyama
(Tatsuya Nakadai) walks around the house with his bandaged-wrapped head
debating the nature of identity with his wife (Machiko Kyo). His
psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) proposes creating a life-like mask shaped
from from a real person (Hisashi Igawa) for Okuyama to wear. Initially
wary of his new face, which can only be worn in twelve hour stretches,
Okuyama tests its ability to rebirth his identity by interacting with a
mentally handicapped girl and making an attempt to seduce his wife. A
parallel story focuses on the life of a sad, young woman (Miki Irie)
whose face is shockingly scarred on one side. Teshigahara cleverly
introduces us to her in a tracking shot that only shows her beautiful
side. Living with her brother, the only man who does not tease her
about her appearance, she craves his attention and acceptance, and
attempts to give herself to him with dire consequences.
Exploring similar territory to Franju's "Eyes Without A Face" and The Twilight Zone episode, "Eye of the Beholder", "Face of Another" is a superior film, in my opinion, and ranks as one of the greatest horror films ever made. It is, first and foremost, a film of fascinating ideas and concepts, a deep exploration of human nature and the way we see ourselves and the world. The character of Mr. Okuyama is trapped in an identity conundrum that every human, at some stage in their lives, will relate to.
Styistically, there are elements (whether accidental or intentional) of Bergman, Bunuel, Lang, Franju and Wakamatsu here. The film's sets and spaces are both practical (Okuyama's apartment) and theatrical (the psychiatric hospital). The imagery is both nightmarish and clinical, while the special make-up effects are subtly convincing and delightfully grotesque. The director uses theater-style lighting techniques, fading lights up and down to alter the mood and isolate the characters when necessary.
There is a subdued erotic subtext that acts as a striking counterpoint to the bizarre development of the story. Nothing feels derivative or hackneyed. One of the final sequences, where Okuyama finds himself in a crowd of the Faceless, is a chilling passage of horrific cinema.
My highest recommendation.
Mr. Okuyama is involved in an accident at work which melts off his face
and this understandably is constantly nagging him. This makes a mark on
the relationship with his wife as he talks out at her about how
miserable he is and what a monster he has become. He then talks his
psychiatrist into making him a new face (which was quite easily done
since the psychiatrist has had these kind of thoughts before) and he
then goes on 'vacation'.
This is so excellent in every way. It is not a sci-fi movie, but in feel it sometimes comes close to. The images are quite surreal at times, the music is out of this world and some of the sets are not to be found in real life.
The editing is masterfully done, switching between main story and a parallel story about a girl with a similar problem, as well as switching between hand-held camera (not too shaky though), still pictures and still standing camera. The pictures of Segawa Hiroshi fits 35mm nicely, sometimes manipulating the background like I haven't seen before for example when the psychiatrist and Mr. Okayama is talking at the club and the crowd behind get 'invisible' by lighting.
Kyou Machiko did a terrific job in Ozu's 'Ukigusa' and likewise here. Too bad we don't see that much of her. Nakudai Tatsuya plays well as the mask. I don't know exactly what was special effects and not, but it was hard to tell.
Author and writer of screenplay Abe Koubou, director Teshigahara Hiroshi and Takemitsu Touru was behind another favourite of mine; 'Suna no Onna'. They also made 'Moetsukita Chizu' and I cant wait to get my hands on it!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the search for self-discovery, one who suffers from an inferiority
complex cannot mask who they really are from the public. This film
brought certain questions to my mind: Which is worse? Suffering the
physical and external conditions of a burned face, or, suffering the
emotional and internal conditions of low self-worth? In the beginning,
Mr. Okuyama is a self-loathing and debased man who in consequence of
his own self-rejection polarizes the relationships he has with others.
The laboratory incident that subsequently disfigures his face causes
Okuyama to finally have reason to unleash the inner-poison he has
festered inside for a long time. The inner-poison he carries is the
self-absorbed and accumulated hatred he has for himself. He tries to
blame his wife for not showing the affection he wants from her by
stating that it is because of his external ugliness that she rejects
him, when really this is a mere mask for his internal ugliness he has
not yet accepted. Okuyama's arc will deal with his transformation from
reproached and depraved thinker to confident and strong human
After receiving his new face from a complete stranger, he "allows the mask to take over" and become who he always wanted to becomea confident human participant. But it seems only a transient form of hiding from who he really is. Soon, his true and inner-self begins leaking through the mask; as seen when the retarded hotel daughter realizes who he is, and, when his attempts to seduce his wife fail. The attempts fail because she claims she already knew it was him despite his cover-up. When he realizes that the mask is wearing off, he tries to resort to alcohol to cover up his insecurities. Despite his efforts to cover-up who he really is, the truth of his character haunts him like a shadow that doesn't depart.
The most pervasive ideology that I observed within the Japanese culture was the idea of isolation. During the beginning credit sequence, seas of people are shown mindlessly crowded together and slowly walking along the city streets of Japan. With so many blank faces to observe and not a clear direction on who to focus on, the viewer becomes anxious and feels rather isolatednot connected to any of the people shown. It brought to mind how seemingly insignificant all of us sometimes feel when walking in a crowd of people, asking ourselves: "Who am I to be anything important when others are more capable, beautiful, and intelligent as I?" As the film demonstrates, it is a personal subject matter on the nature of identity. The Japanese seem to feel that the search for one's identity is one that is lonely, fearful, and full of angst and despair. All of these ideas are exposed through Mr. Okuyamaa man who has not accepted who he is and attempts to mask his true identity from situation to situation.
Further evidence of this isolation is seen in a very literal rendering of the idea of losing identity. Seas of people are seen once again walking along the city street towards Okuyama and his psychiatrist, this time, however, with no faces at all. The psychiatrist says, "The pathway to freedom is a lonely journey." To me this spoke of how when one becomes enlightened to the truth of the world (that is, the way it really is), the lonelier it becomes because of the fact that most people don't question their identity. They just seem to be mindlessly drifting from situation to situation, never once taking thought or examining the nature of their existence. The loneliness also increases because the enlightened doesn't have anyone to share his/her experience with that will understand let alone accept their position. It reminded me of Plato's cave. Okuyama is attempting to break free of the chains that bind him inside the dark and damp lit cave (i.e. the world and his place in it) and see the truth and beauty of the outside world. The journey to do so is a difficult onefull of doubt, discouragement, feelings of low self-worth, and confusion.
The idea of internal and external beauty is also an important idea inside this culture. The seemingly insignificant side-story of the beautiful woman with the scarred face helped demonstrate this idea. When she is seen walking along the city street and flirtatious chants are thrown her way, she turns her face in their direction and immediately the chants cease. They become aware of her external uglinesstheir once playful manners have now turned into cold and harsh rejections. The Japanese culture (like most) seems to be suggesting that the world has not yet learned to accept inner beauty, but is still judging the books by their covers. The same judgment is intertwined into Okuyama's character. He is constantly thinking that others are judging him and that they will reject the "monster" that he supposedly is. When he receives a new face entirely, he still believes that others, namely his wife, are rejecting him. It goes to prove one thing: No matter how attractive the masks we wear appear outwardly, if the soul is scarred, we will still be ugly on the outside.
Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a physically and emotionally wounded
man. After an industrial accident at work, his face has been scarred
and mutilated beyond recognition, and even his wife rejects him, even
though she says his physical appearance doesn't matter. It has left him
bitter and angry, until his psychiatrist Dr. Hira (Mikijiro Hira) comes
up with a way to fashion a 'face mask' that will give him the
appearance of having a completely normal face, albeit with a few
joining marks. Hira doesn't do this just out of kindness, he is
fascinated how this new face will alter Okuyama's personality and way
The Face of Another is a fascinating film that highlights the social attitudes to physical appearance. There are hundreds of films and morality tales that teach you that it is inner beauty that counts, and once you allow this to shine then your physical attractiveness becomes irrelevant. Everyone knows that this is bullshit, so its refreshing to see a film that makes it clear from the outset that physical appearance has a massive part to play in society. Okuyama's new face, which is an attractive one, changes him so much that he takes on an almost dual identity. Dr. Hira delights in telling him that he has bought flashy new clothes, something he was never concerned with before. It becomes clear that whilst before Okuyama merely wanted to be normal again and fit back in society, his new face is engulfing him, and to be 'normal' simply isn't enough anymore.
As with many of the Japanese New Wave film-makers of the 1960's-70's, director Hiroshi Teshigahara takes some bold steps and sneaks in some surrealist and art-house values in a movie that is otherwise played relatively straight. A 'fictional' character appears every now and then throughout (she is first imagined by Okuyama's wife as a character in a movie); one side of her face is scarred and burned. She appears quite rarely, but seems to serve as an alternative to Okuyama's increasingly vain soul. Another scene seems a ball of hair that floats in the air, unnoticed by the people in the laboratory. I have no idea what it meant, and couldn't really admit to it being wholly successful, but it certainly got my attention nonetheless.
A powerful, disturbing, and poignant drama/horror from the greatest era in Japanese cinema. The film seems all the more important now, 45 years on, in a world where a botox injection can be as easy as buying a pack of cigarettes, and where physical 'beauty' is less a bonus than a necessity.
After an industrial accident that leaves his face disfigured for life, Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai)begins to question the meaning of life and his own identity, should he keep working, will his disgusted wife ever sleep with him again. His psychotherapist offers him the chance to avail of an illegal medical practice that he has invented, it's a mask moulded from the face of another, that Okuyama can wear to live life a little more normally. The mask gives him a new lease of life, but his therapist warns him that the mask could take over and influence him to do evil things. As the mask takes control Okuyama can't resist but to give in to his baser instincts, his main plan being, to seduce own wife, that he believes may be cheating on him anyway. With thematic echoes of Franju's Les Yeux sans visage and even Delmer Daves Dark Passage, Teshigahara delivers his expressionistic adaptation of Kôbô Abe's novel with style, the results being a dark and epic tale that will haunt its viewers. Its full of inventive visuals and clever tricks with sound, which along with Tôru Takemitsu's superb score contribute wonderfully to the theme of how fragile identity really is and how the masks we all wear hide our true beings and souls. There's also a secondary story of an unnamed facially deformed girl, who is also struggling to cope with her disfigurements and her tragedy is equally moving.
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