THE FACE OF ANOTHER (1966) – The Dungeon Review!
“Some masks come off some don’t.”
I am so pleased I invested in Criterion’s Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara set. In the set are Pitfall, The Face of Another and Woman in the Dunes. All three films are absolutely brilliant! I reviewed Woman in the Dunes for my Toho feature and since The Face of Another qualified decade-speaking I thought I would sneak it in. The Face of Another is not a horror film, so it will not qualify for the 1966 list. The Face of Another is based on a novel by Kôbô Abe who also wrote the screenplay. In fact all three of the films in the set are based on and have screenplays written by Kôbô Abe. The quote at the top of this review or even the title itself might have given you an inkling that The Face of Another is a story about identity; actually it is two intertwined stories about identity.
Mr. Okuyama a man whose face is badly scarred is seeing a psychiatrist to help him adapt to the life altering incident. The psychiatrist convinces Mr. Okuyama to give his consent to the creation of a mask that would allow him to integrate comfortably back into society. But his new identity begins to change him. A second story that runs parallel with Mr. Okuyama’s involves a young woman who suffers from a disfiguring scar on one side of her face. We are shown snippets of her daily existence and the hardships she is forced to endure.
The Face of Another is thought-provoking commentary on our identities; the way society treats us based on our appearances and the way we react based on that treatment. The young scarred woman of the story is actually a character in a film watched by our Mr. Okuyama. The young woman was scarred at Hiroshima; the nuclear radiation theme understandably worked its way into the plots of many Japanese films in the 1960s. The scarred young woman who remains nameless is a very empathetic character with a sad story that rather broke my heart. Mr. Okuyama is not a particularly sympathetic character. He is pretty bitter, angry and jealous. He isn’t a bad person he just makes himself difficult to be around. He is caustic towards his wife who he feels is intentionally avoiding him since the accident. He also suspects her of having an affair. She feels that it is he who has changed and alienated her. His occasional visits to his place of employment are awkward and uncomfortable. Although Mr. Okuyama’s The Invisible Man like bandages may make people uneasy; his salty observations don’t exactly make those around him feel any less anxious. Mr. Okuyama agrees to the making of the mask and it is decided that the face of another man will be used. Mr. Okuyama also agrees to be a guinea pig of sorts. The psychiatrist wants to document how the mask effects Mr. Okuyama. Unfortunately, Mr. Okuyama’s first instinct is to use his handsome new face to deceive and seduce his wife. All of the characters in The Face of Another are fascinating and the performances across the board are perfect.
The visuals in The Face of Another are incredible, unique and downright trippy! The psychiatrist’s office had the most ingenious set pieces I have ever laid eyes on! The medical diagrams on the glass walls, the rows of glass shelves full of synthetic body parts, giant body part sculptures that double as furniture. It is quite the mind blow man! Modern, cold and stark but also beautiful and alluring. I was particularly impressed with the finale where Mr. Okuyama and the psychiatrist meet and streams of faceless people walk between them. The Face of Another is full of visual symbolic references. A couple did mystify me slightly. What was the significance of the German-themed bar with the kitschy ceramic steins? Is it just an odd ball reference to World War II? What about the flying bed? Nonetheless you could not possibly have any complaints with the astounding visuals in The Face of Another.
Criterion’s Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara set is simply the cat’s ass! It is packed to the tits with bonuses (which I have not yet gotten around to) and more importantly all three films are freaking amazing. It was well worth the hearty investment! If you are interested in the Japanese new wave cinema of the sixties this trio is highly and enthusiastically recommended. The Face of Another is a slower-paced, symbolic, psychological, strange and highly visual journey with a gorgeous, amazing score and absolutely superb performances. The Face of Another gets my highest of recommendations…a perfect rating.
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Mikijiro Hira, Kyôko Kishida, Miki Irie, Eiji Okada, Minoru Chiaki, Hideo Kanze, Kunie Tanaka, Etsuko Ichihara, Eiko Muramatsu, Yoshie Minami, Hisashi Igawa, Kakuya Saeki