The Face of Another Movie Review

Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara didn't make many films before his death in 2001, but he left behind quite the cinematic reputation, most notably with the weird and unforgettable Woman in the Dunes (1964) and The Face of Another, an almost surreal Twilight Zone-like exercise in the ultimate identity crisis that has enough going on in it to fuel several film school dissertations.

We meet the bandaged Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) as he is recovering from an industrial accident that has destroyed his face. Wrapped from the neck up like a mummy with eye and mouth holes, he's actually in decent physical shape and is sitting around at home wondering what to do with his life while his understandably skittish and distant wife (Machiko Kyo) darts around the apartment.

Okuyama is a deep thinker, and he finds his intellectual equal in a psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) assigned to help him deal with his injuries. When the doctor proposes that he fashion a lifelike mask out of an amazing new space-age polymer that will look totally real, Okuyama leaps at the chance, not only to hide his disfigurement but also to toy with a new identity.

And so the film asks: If no one knew who you were, what kind of mischief would you get into? While the doctor ponders all sorts of philosophical ramifications along the lines of "What would happen to society if we were all anonymous?" and "Is the face really the window into the soul?" Okuyama is more pragmatic. He just wants to see if he can seduce his own wife.

Once the mask is in place and Okuyama looks like a new man -- and by the way, the doctor's laboratory is an Oscar-caliber piece of surrealistic set design that has to be seen to be believed -- Okuyama rents a small apartment and sets out to reel in the missus.

Teshigahara uses pretty much every trick in the filmmaker's handbook to make his many philosophical points. You'll see weird framing, tilted cameras, fast focus pulling, documentary-like handheld footage, dramatic lighting, rear-screen projection, still photography, and more as the new Okuyama makes his way through Tokyo. Teshigahara even folds in a parallel story about a physically and emotionally scarred Nagasaki survivor who is looking for love while trying to shake her unshakable belief that another war is going to start tomorrow.

Teshigahara presents creepy tableau after tableau until you find questions about your own identity filling your head. By the time the movie is over you'll want to rush to a mirror to spend a few minutes staring at yourself.

DVD Note: The Face of Another is available as part of Teshigahara box set produced by the Criterion Collection. Included is a very good scene-by-scene film-school-style explanation of Teshigahara's many clever filmmaking techniques.

Aka Tanin no kao.

The visible man.

Cast & Crew


Comments

The Face of Another Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1966

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