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A metaphysical mystery involving a university student's camera getting stolen, and the thief then committing suicide. Looking back upon the event, the situation comes to be questioned if it happened at all.
While many directors work hard to maintain the illusion of the silver screen as a self-contained world unto itself, Imamura not only films what is a essentially a fiction film disguised as a documentary but debunks it several times along the way. A MAN VANISHES pretends to be a documentary about a man named Tadashi Oshima who suddenly vanished two years ago without a trace, a popular habit with disgruntled Japanese office workers (Imamura reports 91,000 Japanese were reported missing that year - again, fact or fiction?), which in reality is a film essay that masquerades as a documentary to make and prove its point, and to make that point (that absolute truth coming from a subjective observer is impossible and that by extension how can we trust our senses to tell us what is real from what is not) it has to debunk its own status as a documentary.
The problem with the film is that the plot becomes entangled in the drudgery of the characters' lives as they try to separate truth from fabrication to discover what really happened to Tadashi. After a pre-ending, which if Jodorowsky didn't rip off wholesale for the ending of his HOLY MOUNTAIN then let's just say it's a stroke of absurd coincidence, it goes on for another 15 minutes in a redundant scene where the argument between two sisters and an eye-witness who allegedly saw Tadashi with one of the sisters two years back continues unabated in the middle of a crowded street, while Imamura is keen to remind us again that it's a dramatized version we're watching. You can almost feel him chuckling gleefully "Doesn't it look so real?" (and it does), "well, it isn't!". Right down to the ending that recalls the film-within-a-film device of the ending of his previous film THE PORNOGRAPHERS, A Man Vanishes remains an interesting film essay, a great pseudo-documentary, but not a very good film.
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