Saturday, September 10, 2011

#395: The Face of Another

(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)

The Face of Another is the final film in Criterion's Teshigahara boxset and his third collaboration with novelist/screenwriter Kôbô Abe after The Woman in the Dunes and Pitfall. It's also my least favorite of the three, partially because its pitch-black tone leaves no room for optimism, but mainly because its protagonist is so soul-crushingly depressing. It's difficult to see what we would like about Mr. Okuyama, who spends the film constantly complaining about his (admittedly shitty) situation, ultimately bumming out everyone around him and guaranteeing his already resigned-to fate. It doesn't help that the immediately welcome face of the legendary Tatsuya Nakadai, playing Mr. Okuyama, is hidden under scars and gauze.

This is all a shame, because The Face of Another is strangely moving and Roeg-style beautiful. Teshigahara combines a modern formalism with striking abstract special effects, making it easily the flashiest of the three films represented in the boxset. A viewing alternates, then, between fascinating moments that strike at worthy themes of loneliness, alienation, and self-perception and frustrating stretches where those same themes feel like nails on a chalkboard.

Ultimately, I would say I liked The Face of Another, mainly because its well-intentioned investigation into the human condition is in fact successful and accomplished. But I wouldn't say it's an easy viewing, or even necessarily an enjoyable one.

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