Hiroshi Teshigahara’s third film gets a superb treatment from Eureka. A fine piece of cinema, lovingly transfered to DVD. Kev reviews a day prior to its release.
When Mr. Okuyama’s (Tatsuya Nakadai) face is horrifically disfigured in an industrial fire he finds himself questioning the values of one’s own appearance, as day after day he coasts through life wearing a head wrapped in bandages. His home life has been almost ruined since his wife (Machiko Kyo) shows little affection toward him, so one day while visiting his doctor (Mikijiro Hira) he asks if it is possible to get a new face, to which his doctor says yes but to do so would be against his beliefs. Still, the doctor is easily persuaded and out of his own curiosity he makes a synthetic face for Okuyama using the face of a stranger for its base. With this new mask Okuyama can walk freely with a new identity but with this mask comes important rules. What would you do with a new identity?
Two years prior, Hiroshi Teshigahara had enjoyed immense international acclaim for Woman of the Dunes. This now opened him up to further possibilities. With the release of The Face of Another (Tanin no Kao) in 1966 he could now gather a far greater ensemble of star players to flesh out his vision. Tatsuya Nakadai and Machiko Kyo were huge stars in Japan and remain so today and their presence onboard would gain Teshigahara’s third film much attention. Teshigahara picks a theme that had been explored in his previous works and sets the film on that main issue being identity, but from this idea derives a far greater philosophical approach, one which creates a streaming flow of questions.
As with the two films before and the fourth which would follow in 1968 (The Ruined Map) you can see that Teshigahara never preoccupied himself with using names for his characters. Being that these films cater for themselves on particular premises it isn’t necessary that we should know each character as close up. After all what with his films creating dilemmas from subjects such as identity crises the very fact that most of the characters are nameless only helps the situation as the anonymity throughout forms the basis of the very point it tries to make. Given a situation whereby the chance to disappear amongst society and yet be ever present is too good to pass up, Nakadai’s character ends up taking a journey of discovery as he pushes his new accessory to its limits. In a radical move Teshigahara questions its ethics and examines motives, rather than being fixated upon character details that quite easily pass by without cause for concern. Add to this the questionable sanity of Mr. Okuyama, we end up with quite the psychological backdrop.
What makes the film interesting but also places strain on its back is the inclusion of a second tale that weaves in and out of our protagonist’s situation. Here Teshigahara interjects with the life of a facially scarred woman (Miki Irie) who lives a quiet life with her brother. By taking a new angle with this young woman’s tale we begin to see a film that takes a look at the discrimination which befalls both figures but it’s also a nicely juxtaposed situation. What we end up with is the story of one man who is disgusted by his own features and covers them up by means of bandages or the latter – his mask. On the other side we have a woman who has learned to live with her disfigurement, although she covers up the right side of her face with her hair all too often. Where this would make an interesting case in study the story of these characters are too contradicting to themselves and due to each character’s disassociation with the other, aside from the fact they both share similar problems and the fact that the young woman’s tale is far shorter than his, it leaves a curious dilemma. By no means is this aspect quite as ineffective as it sounds, with Teshigahara merging the events of both in time with one another, but they still appear a little disjointed in several areas during its narrative.
With that said however, The Face of Another is a highly engaging and artistic piece of work, opening with the x-rayed skull of Nakadai as he talks about his predicament, moving along to at times haunting shots behind closed doors, the kind of metaphors that lace the film throughout, to its final denouement which is as surreal as it is descriptive. Teshigahara makes his points and he makes them with style.
Following on from Pitfall, Eureka present #6 in their Masters of Cinema series as a fine companion. Included in the case is a 16-page booklet with notes by David Toop. He talks about Toru Takemitsu in detail before we see mini biographies for Hiroshi Teshigahara (identical to that featured in the previous booklet) and then notes on Kobo Abe. The back page includes a translation of the German song “WALTZ” as sung by Bibari “Beverly” Maeda in the film.
I thought the transfer for Pitfall was fantastic but the image here surpasses that leaving me with few remaining superlatives to describe it. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and it’s as clean as the cleanest surface in the world. There isn’t a speck on the print, the worse we see is unavoidable exposure damage which crops up a few times but its faint and not distracting. Otherwise this is pristine and like the last release I couldn’t make out any Edge Enhancement. Early on there seems to be minor aliasing that turns up on the lead’s coat but due to the pattern and presumably how it was filmed this can’t be helped. Contrast levels are brilliant and blacks are deep, a really incredible transfer.
For sound we’re given a restored Japanese monaural track which is free from any major faults. There isn’t a whole lot to pick at, it all sounds very natural and Takemitsu’s score is once again cared for. Much like with Pitfall the main draw is that it’s the original track, there’s no fancy, artificial creations here and for that I’m grateful. English subtitles are optional and presented via a bold white font, which is well placed and easy to read while the actual translation is very fine indeed.
Audio Commentary with Tony Rayns
As with Pitfall Tony Rayns provides an interesting commentary that highlights the films’ many motifs and divulges much of what the story represents. Rayns sticks to a similar formula and in-between providing information about actors and so on he points at things which are happening onscreen, but while he describes what is happening he manages to explain the reasons for them. Another recommended listen.
This is the original theatrical trailer, complete with English subtitles.
A very nice but small collection of stills of on set footage, Teshigahara setting up shots and finally promotional material.
A psychological analysis of newly attained power over insecurity, The Face of Another is a seductive journey, where choices are made and lives are examined. Teshigahara delivers another brilliant piece of work and Eureka has done a stunning job in bringing it to DVD. Roll on their future releases, I for one can’t wait to see them.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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