falderal : a moving images blog
Tanin no kao (The Face of Another) ; 1966  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Posted by Maddy

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai, Machiko Kyô, Mikijiro Hira, Kyôko Kishida, Eiji Okada, Miki Irie
Country: Japan

Of the various films Hiroshi Teshigahara adapted from novels by Kobo Abe, The Face of Another is his most visually recognizable. The story of a Japanese psychiatrist (Tatsuya Nakadai) who, after an accident in a factory, has his face burned off is a film ripe with ethical implications. Feeling alienated from his wife and society Okuyama seeks the help of a young doctor specializing in constructing fake limbs for amputees. Together they create a mask so realistic that it might as well be real flesh. With this new face, and new identity, Okuyama wishes to seduce his wife believing he will be able to exact his revenge upon her for when she rejected him with his previously scarred face.
Throughout the film the young doctor voices his worries – what kind of society would we have if these masks were massed produced? Anyone could have an entirely new identity and the possibility of infinite freedom is at hand. All desire could be met; all crimes could be committed without the slightest implication. Okuyama also faces the dilemma of losing his original self to the identity of the mask. He changes his style and mannerisms and gives into temptations that his previous self would not.

Okuyama is a complex character. With his face rapped in bandages he feels that the world sees him as a monster and pushes everyone away, believing they all scorn him. But does society and the people he cares about really feel this way or is he too self absorbed to see those around him? When the seduction of his wife backfires upon him he sees, with horror, the error of his ways and delves deeper and deeper into the new identity the mask has given him.
Teshigahara also intersperses the film with a film within a film. A young Hibakusha girl and her brother live together. The girl, whose face had been burned by the atom bombs, goes throughout her daily life. She is approached and then scorned by strangers and makes guns with her brother. She asks him if there would be another war soon. He answers honestly not realizing that what they are doing, creating weapons, could create more people like her. In the novel her story is deliberately shown to be a film that Okuyama had seen in the theatres having gone there to find comfort in the darkness. In the film it cuts back and forth never making it clear what her story had to do with Okuyama’s. Both have been horribly scarred, one by industry, the other by war.
Teshigahara fills this film with spectacular visuals, particularly those in the doctor’s office. Another visual highlight would be the way he focuses attention. In the scenes where the doctor and the newly masked Okuyama go out to drink at a German bar Teshigahara slows down the crowd behind them, quiets the music and alters the lighting. These subtle touches go unnoticed until he returns the bustle and noise of the crowd. The conversation is one that the audience, and the men involved, become so involved with that the crowd fades away behind them.
Brilliant but far from upbeat, The Face of Another highlights the moral ambiguity that rests within society. Teshigaraha’s outstanding cinematography makes the film one of a kind. The Face of Another, which would make an excellent double bill with Seconds, is a dark moral tale about alienation and identity. What kind of reaction is an audience supposed to have when all of Okuyama’s attempts to rejoin society that only push him further away?

IMDb Link: Tanin no kao
Where to buy: Criterion

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