12 February 1999 | Prion
Personality determines Appearance? Or Appearance determines Personality?
This is a film that has to be rescued for all moviegoers.
I saw "The Face of Another" (Tanin no kao) at the National Gallery of Art's series, "A New Wave in Japan: 1955-1974," and was mesmerized by this "elegantly spooky and enigmatic examination of identity." This is the third of four Hiroshi Teshigahara (director)/Kobo Abe (writer)/ Toru Takemistu (composer) collaborations. They have reached nearly the same perfection in the fusion of image, sound, and subject in this work as in their brilliant work, "Woman in the Dunes."
A businessman (Tatsuya Nakadai), whose face has been scarred in an industrial fire, is receiving psychotherapy from a psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira). He succeeds in persuading the psychiatrist to make a mask for him, amazingly lifelike but completely different from his own face. Soon after being fitted for the mask, he tries to seduce his wife (Machiko Kyo) and succeeds; she promptly falls for the handsome stranger. He becomes angry at her weakness for a handsome man, but she claims she was aware all along that he was her husband and believed that both were just masquerading together as most couples usually do in different ways. She tells him that it is not she but he who has worried excessively about his appearance and who has spoiled his relationship with others. Strangely enough, his personality seemingly begins to change after he puts on the mask as if the mask has influenced his personality. And, he comes to realize that his new identity does not enable him to reintegrate into society after all.
The film also has a touching subplot. A good-natured young woman (Miki Irie, now Mrs. Seiji Ozawa), the left side of whose face is beautiful, but the right side of which is disfigured, has been hurt by others' inquisitive eyes and insults. She has been shunned and never been treated as a lady by any man other than her older brother. One day, she and her brother take a trip to a seaside resort, and in the hotel, she asks him to make love to her, hiding from him the intention of killing herself the next morning. He accepts her surprising request. During the lovemaking, he kisses her on the right side of her face. Her brother is the only man who can understand her pain and solitude and who can love the ugliest part of her appearance because of his deep love for her.
After seeing this film, questions arise. What is Identity? How is it established? What is the relationship among Identity, Personality, and Physical Appearance? Does Personality determine Physical Appearance? Or, does Physical Appearance determine Personality? Abe and Teshigahara seem to challenge our common beliefs about this.
The story is easy to follow, unlike "Woman in the Dunes." The dialogue is sophisticated enough as to be quotable.
Takemitsu's musical score is outstanding. He has created a sharp contrast between sweet, sad music, which represents dance music for the masquerade, and deep, eerie "music," which represents the reality of faceless people.
I hope this film will enjoy a revival and come to video or DVD in the near future.