Face of Another

Face of Another is a 1966 film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, with a screenplay by Kōbō Abe, based on his own novel.

Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a man whose face was severely burned in an industrial accident. He suspects that his wife, Mrs. Okuyama (I’m sorry, but that’s how her name is listed in the credits; played by Machiko Kyô), no longer desires him. He persuades his psychiatrist, Hira (Mikijiro Hira), to contruct a life-like mask for him. The mask looks so real, that people think it is actually his face. Okuyama plans to seduce his wife without her knowing his real identity. He contrives a “chance” meeting with her on the street. The two have tea together, and eventually they go back to an apartment he has rented. After they make love, Okuyama decides to reveal himself to her. Just as he starts to remove the mask, however, she tells him she has known it is really him all along. She thought they were playing a joint masquerade. She is disgusted to learn that he thought he was fooling her. She leaves.

Okuyama goes beserk. He goes out and tries to rape a woman on the street, but the police stop him. They can find no identification on him, only a card with his psychiatrist’s phone number. When they call Hira, he tells them that Okuyama is an escaped mental patient. Hira comes to the police station and they turn Okuyama over to him. Hira and Okuyama walk down the street and enter a crowd of people wearing masks. They have a philosophical discussion. Hira says, “Some masks can’t be removed.” They leave the crowd. Okuyama embraces Hira in a manner that is almost sexual. The latter slumps to the ground. We then see that Okuyama has actually stabbed him. The film ends with a close-up shot of Okuyama pulling at his face. He can no longer remove his mask.

This story is interspersed with scenes from the life of a woman (Miki Irie), whose face was partially burned during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. I could not see how these scenes related to the main story. They merely seemed like a distraction. It would have been much better if Teshigahara had made a separate film about an atomic bombing survivor.

This film deals with two themes: how our sense of identity influences our behavior, and how our sense of our physical appearance influences our sense of identity. After he dons the mask, Okuyama goes out and buys flashy clothing that are unlike what he usually wears. Hira tells him that the mask is telling him what to do. It is “taking over”.

This film has some creepy moments in it. The effect is not unlike the feeling one gets from reading an Edogawa Ranpo story. Hira, for example, has a “mad scientist” air about him. In one scene, he speculates that if he were to give every person a mask, it would “destroy morality”. He seems to find this prospect enticing. Hira’s office is a bleak, seemingly formless space that could have come out of a Dali painting. At times it seems to exist in a dream world. It raises the question of whether Okuyama is actually imagining things. (This is very Ranpoesque.)

Face of Another is the third of a trilogy of films, the first two being Pitfall and The Woman in the Dunes. I’m told that when Face of Another was released, critics argued that it was inferior to the previous films. I have not seen Pitfall, but The Woman in the Dunes has a very straightforward feel to it. By comparison, Face of Another seems confusing and full of obscure symbolism, such as the crowd wearing masks. Still, I liked the film’s creepy and surreal touches.

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