The Face of Another
Best known for his 1964 masterpiece of existential dread, Hiroshi Teshigahara has developed quite the cult following among film buffs despite being silent for decades; devoting his life to leading his family’s flower arranging school. There is a similarity between the arrangement of flowers and the direction of a film. Both art forms require a strong sense of composition, placement, and space. His films have a strong compositional sense, boasting almost obsessive framing and camerawork. He is both rigid and fluid. In The Face of Another, Teshigahara, again collaborating with novelist Kobo Abe, returns again to the theme of identity. The main character Mr. Okuyama is a businessman whose face has been scarred in some sort of horrible industrial accident. He finds himself under the care of an eccentric psychiatrist who fashions a new face for him, and allows him to assume a totally new identity. The angst of post-war Japan permeates the film, and Teshigahara be it nuclear anxiety to social anxiety to sexual anxiety. The film is thoroughly entrenched in that late-60s alienation. Taking a cue from Kurosawa’s corporate thrillers like High and Low, most of the action takes place in the apartments and streets of modern Japan, which are rendered to look like a sprawling metal spider of unfeeling modernity. The one exception is the surreal psychiatrist’s office which is an open space separated by glass panels decorated with designs. It’s a brilliant piece of set design, and certainly one of the most unique set pieces ever filmed in the cinema. The Face of Another, however, never really takes off. For some reason Teshigahara decided to insert another storyline parallel to Abe’s original. Though it is intriguing, the story of a scarred, but beautiful woman is never developed enough, and then plummets into absurdity without much build up or transition. The film feels almost half cooked. Whereas Woman in the Dunes fired on all cylinders, it seems here Teshigahara isn’t sure what kind of film he wants to make, and that hurts the production. But still, it’s a peculiar and surreal film, and should not disappoint those looking for something different. Watch it in a triple feature with Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face and Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In for a couple different perspectives on the theme of identity, doppelgangers and body horror.