A businessman with a disfigured face obtains a lifelike mask from his doctor, but the mask starts altering his personality.A businessman with a disfigured face obtains a lifelike mask from his doctor, but the mask starts altering his personality.A businessman with a disfigured face obtains a lifelike mask from his doctor, but the mask starts altering his personality.
The film combines several hoary and not particularly profound narrative contrivances. Here's a man attempting to seduce his wife, pretending to be another person--this was old when THE GUARDSMAN first went on stage and has been done countless times. Then there's the classic mad scientist, presented with very little nuance, delving into Things that Man Was Not Meant to Know. Related to this is that the story is only able to exist by grossly underestimating man's ability to adapt to the unknown. (An example is the 1952 science fiction story "Mother" by Alfred Coppel in which astronauts all return insane when confronted with the vastness of space.) These primitive tropes are shamelessly built on a simple narrative situation that is completely unable to carry them: a man with a disfigured face getting facial reconstruction. This happens all the time, so what's to "not meant to know"? If all this isn't enough, Teshigahara tacks on an unrelated, completely separate set of characters in their own undeveloped narrative that even Quandt thinks doesn't work. The dialogue by author/screenwriter Kobo Abe is risible, sounding like something out of a grade-B forties horror film.
To disguise the paucity of the film's narrative, Teshigahara has tricked it up with what Quandt admiringly calls "its arsenal of visual innovation: freeze-frames, defamiliarizing close-ups, wild zooms, wash-away wipes, X-rayed imagery, stuttered editing, surrealist tropes, swish pans, jump cuts, rear projection, montaged stills, edge framing, and canted, fragmented, and otherwise stylized compositions." These arty-farty gimmicks (and more) are, of course, hardly "innovations." They were endemic in the early sixties. Their extensive use seems a vain attempt to disguise the film's shallow content. Quandt also sees great significance in the many repetitions in the film: I see only repetition.
But even that is not the film's worst problem. Teshigahara often seems like a still photographer lost in a form that requires narrative structure. His inability to develop a sustained narrative makes the film seem far longer than its already-long two hours plus. Things happen, but the film doesn't really progress. The end result is little more than a compendium of tricks and narrative scraps borrowed from others.
- Feb 22, 2017