Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)

Tatsuya Nakadai and Mikijiro Hira in Hiroshi Teshigahara's The Face of Another (1966).

Mr. Okuyama's (Tatsuya Nakadai) face is horribly disfigured in an accident at work. He spends his days at home with his entire head covered in bandages and it's making him feel as if he is losing his identity. His wife (Machiko Kyo) pretends that she is not bothered by his new appearance but it is obvious to Okuyama, who even fantasizes about scarring her face in a similar way to make her less uneasy around him. Being on leave from his job after the accident, he wants to come back as long as he won't have to deal with people as much as before. His boss says it's no problem but Okuyama can tell that his boss finds it exhausting just to be in the same room as him. While this is all going on, Okuyama is seeing a psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) to get help with his identity crisis. The psychiatrist offers to give Okuyama a new face, in the form of a life-like mask, as an experiment, on the condition that Okuyama tells him about everything he does and feels while wearing the mask.

While waiting for the mask to be completed, Okuyama and the psychiatrist discuss what he will do once it is finished. Okuyama seems to be focused on re-seducing his wife, making her cheat on him with himself. The psychiatrist warns him that it may be dangerous. When the mask is finished and Okuyama is trying it out, the psychiatrist is talking about the freedom it must bring, to not be recognized by anyone, being able to do anything, almost as if you were invisible, but Okuyama soon learns that it's not that simple. Being recognized by a mentally challenged girl who has only seen him once before wearing bandages, and who is described by Okuyama as an idiot, makes him wonder if the mask really makes him unrecognizable. To find out he goes to see his boss once again, and is greeted by his secretary in a very different manner than before, since she clearly doesn't recognize him. This gives him confidence to seduce his wife or as he puts it "take back what is mine". The obvious danger would be that if he succeeds, why would he want to be with a woman who would cheat on him, wouldn't it make him feel even worse about himself? But the outcome is something different. Instead it is his wife, who has recognized Okuyama and played along, who is offended when she finds out that they weren't roleplaying and that he wasn't wearing the mask to make it easier on her, but to trick her into "cheating" on him. She sees the mask as wearing make-up, in the same way that women wears make-up to better their appearance. This drives Okuyama to use the freedom that he thinks the mask gives him as he tries to rape a woman on the street and is arrested.

Nothing that he and the psychiatrist imagined would be gained from wearing the mask happens. There is no freedom, what Okuyama gains is not a new identity but a distorted version of his old self that still wants the same thing that he wanted earlier, he wants to be accepted by his wife. His appearance isn't changed enough for him to be totally unrecognizable either, and he is still sensitive to how others react to his appearance, and their reactions decides how he feels, what he becomes. The supposed freedom doesn't exist. You may be able to be more confident while hiding behind a mask, but you're still the same person and responsible for your actions.

Tatsuya Nakadai (left) wearing his mask and Mikijiro Hira (right).

I guess that your identity partially comes from how others perceive and react to you, by being part of how you see yourself, but appearances can also be decieving, as with the "idiot" girl. When Okuyama is robbed of his appearance he is also robbed of his identity, or his feel of identity, but his new appearance doesn't give him a new "real" identity. His boss would be willing to give him his job back without him wearing a mask, and his wife wants him for who he is, but wants him to wear make-up to make it easier when they have sex. Okuyama fails to see this because his mask is, like the prosthetic finger in the opening scene of the film, an inferiority complex in the shape of a face.

These are just my thoughts immediately after watching the film so I might edit this post later. I feel that there is more to the film than this but reading some reviews, I noticed they mainly consisted of a plot description and praise of Hiroshi Teshigahara, the director. I agree with everything positive about the film, the acting, the music and the way it looks, but what I found most interesting was the way that appearances and the way the may have an effect on how you see yourself are handled in the film, so that's what I wanted to write about. Now I look forward to watching Teshigahara's other films.


leigh~ said...

I think a central part of the film had to do with tackling the idea of nationalistic identity - what makes one Japanese?

There is the one scene, before he is getting the molding, where they show this juxtaposition between his "framework" of a face and the rebuilding... In a way, it is questioning the rebuilding of Japan, after the war.

I think this film was completely excellent in the questions it raised over what makes who we are. Is it our soul or what we see on a superficial level?

Of course, Nakadai was brilliant but that almost goes without saying D:

Executive Koala said...

I think the other story in the film, with the scarred woman who's afraid that there will be another war, may be about how if you keep living in the past you will go under. While Okuyama's story shows that just covering it up, trying to just move on with too high expectations of the future, is not the way to go about it either, to put it simply.

I don't know how the government tried to make Japan move on after the war or how the Japanese people struggled with their new identity, so for me, bringing the film down to a personal level was necessary.

It didn't make it any less interesting or great though. :)

leigh~ said...

That's an interesting take on it (the woman's story). I've really thought about that one and often times -- I don't know what to feel about it.

Coupled with the fact that there is incest - what exactly can one make of that story? Why do they decide to tell that one?

Executive Koala said...

Living in the past, holding on to old ways, fear of something new = incest? I have no idea :D