A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)


I haven't read the novel by Kobo Abe on which the film is based, but I suspect that adherence to the source (Abe also wrote the screenplay) weakens the film, which dwells heavily on ideas about identity and morality that are more efficiently explored in literature than in cinema. The central narrative deals with Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) who, having been disfigured in an industrial accident, sees a psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) who devises an experimental mask that gives Okuyama an entirely new identity. Wearing the mask, Okuyama seduces his own wife (Machiko Kyo), who tells him that she knew who he was all along and assumed that he was trying to revive their marriage, which had been troubled since his accident. She is enraged when she learns that he was in fact testing her fidelity. But there is a secondary narrative about a beautiful young woman (Miki Irie) who bears scars along one side of her face that, it is suggested, are the result of exposure to radiation from the Nagasaki atomic bomb. In the novel, this story comes from a film seen by the characters in the main story, but Teshigahara withholds this explanation for its inclusion in the film without apparent connection to Okuyama's story. I'm not troubled by the disjunction this creates in the film, because Teshigahara and production designer Masao Yamazaki have developed a coherent symbolic style that creates an appropriate air of mystery throughout The Face of Another. The weakness lies, I think, in the dialogue, especially in the too didactic exchanges between Okuyama and the psychiatrist about the limits and potential of a mutating identity. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating, flawed film, more disturbing than most outright "horror" movies.