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September 17, 2005

Face of Another

Tanin No Kao
Hiroshi Teshigahara - 1966
Eureka Region 2 DVD

I came across a news story that could be seen as another example of life following art. Some of the issues in this story were addressed in Face of Another, one of the best of several face transplant movies. There are some other good films, Face/Off and Eyes without a Face, and some not so good films. One could do a fairly good sized essay on face transplant movies. As it happened, I saw Face of Another just a couple of days ago.

One of several films by Teshigahara based on a novel by Kobo Abe, Face of Another is about physical appearance and identity. On a deeper level, the film is a meditation on Japanese sense of identity following World War II. The film mostly is concerned with Tatsuya Nakadai's character, a man who's face was severely burnt in an industrial fire. There is a counter-narrative of a young woman whose physical beauty has been affected by the burn scars on one side of her face. In discussing her childhood, it is revealed she was a witness to the bombing of Nagasaki. The film gets seriously symbolic in the subject matter, and Teshigahara's images are occassionally surreal. In other words, this is what made film making seem so exciting in the Sixties.

In Joan Mellen's book, Voices from the Japanese Cinema, Teshigahara discusses Face of Another:
"This movie is about the breakdown of communication between people, not only in Japan, but universally. The protagonist loses his face once and finds a new face. It is a form of irony. He thought that his isolation was a result of not having a face, having to wear a mask. When he got the new face through plastic surgery, he thought this would mean that he could communicate with people again. But he never recovers what he sought through this transformation. Not only couldn't he obtain what he wanted, but even worse, his alienation deepened. I sought to convey the magnitude of human isolation and loneliness."

Teshigahara is remembered best for Woman of the Dunes, his previous collaboration with Abe. While it is more easily available, in some ways Face of Another is more accessible, in that it can be appreciated as much for the basic narrative, even when the meanings behind the narrative are not as easily understood. Teshigahara also did a documentary on the architect, Antonio Gaudi, which is also available on DVD. Of course, this being Teshigaha, this is hardly a conventional documentary, with the filmmaker virtually allowing the fantastic buildings to speak for themselves.

Posted by peter at September 17, 2005 01:55 PM