Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Films I Love #48: The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)
The Face of Another is the third of four feature collaborations between director Hiroshi Teshigahara and novelist Kôbô Abe, based on Abe's novel of the same name. It's also arguably both Abe's best book and, partly as a result, the best film the duo made together: a paranoid, dreamlike examination of identity, sexuality, fidelity, disguises and superficial appearances. This haunting film centers around the businessman Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai), who is badly scarred in a fire. When he receives a realistic mask from his psychiatrist/plastic surgeon (Mikijirô Hira), he begins to become disassociated from his identity, discovering that his appearance is more intimately linked than he had suspected with his behavior, attitudes and identity. He not only looks like an entirely new man, but increasingly becomes one, once he sheds his bandages and takes on a new face. In this new identity, he seduces his wife (Machiko Kyô) but is hurt when she goes along with the advances of this stranger — even though she later insists she knew it was him.
The film is elliptical and slippery, boldly fragmenting its narrative as the hero muses with his psychiatrist — who also acts as his friend, his guide, his doctor, and his moral arbiter — about the nature of identity and the question of what constitutes the self. The cinematography has a startling clarity that lends force to Teshigahara's outrageous imagery. The film frequently seems to be a dream, flowing with casual absurdity from one bizarre set piece to another. This quality is especially apparent in the scenes taking place in the psychiatrist's office, in which disconnected body parts float in the air or serve as decorative flourishes. At one point, Okuyama leans back against a wall paneled with tiny ears sitting in tile boxes. The office is segmented with clear walls on which medical diagrams and geometric patterns are drawn, while replicas of body parts are inset into the surface of the wall, making them look like they're suspended in space. Within this surrealist office, the film's unsettling diversions and subplots seem almost like logical reactions to a ridiculous world.