The Face of Another (1966) – An allegorical and thought-provoking tale from Hiroshi Teshigahara

The Face of Another is an offbeat, surreal and thought-provoking film from avant-garde Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara. It stars the legendary Japanese thespian Tatsuya Nakadai, who became a frequent collaborator of director Akira Kurosawa since he parted ways with Toshiro Mifune. But apart from the Kurosawa films, he has worked on films of several other notable Japanese filmmakers such as Masaki Kobayashi, Kihachi Okamoto etc. This allegorical film is based on the novel of the same name by Kobo Abe, who has often been called the Japanese Franz Kafka and rightfully so.

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The story revolves around a man named Okuyama who undergoes a face transplant after his face is severely disfigured in an industrial accident. Given this sort of premise, one wouldn’t be off-base in also calling this science fiction. The surgery is performed by a psychiatrist-cum-plastic surgeon named Hira, who serves as Okuyama’s (and the audience’s) moral compass. After he receives the realistic and life-like mask, his personality too slowly undergoes a major transformation. Before he received the mask, he was covered in bandages and this made his wife along with his boss, uneasy.

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The resulting frustration was what led him to the surgeon in the first place. He doesn’t inform his wife about the surgery and tells her that he’ll be leaving the town on urgent business. Instead, he rents an apartment nearby and plans to seduce his wife as “another man”. He is successful in his attempt and this enrages him. He accuses her of infidelity but she maintains that she knew that it was her husband all along. She admonishes him for putting her through this ordeal and leaves him. This further intensifies his frustration and confusion and he slowly finds himself being separated from his previous identity.

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The film moves along like a nightmare and benefits well from Teshigahara’s radical filmmaking style. The central premise serves as a platform for several intellectually stimulating discussions. Also running parallel to Okuayama’s story is the story of a young woman with a horrible facial scar. These two stories make us ask questions about the effect of an individual’s appearance on himself as well as others, the ever-changing nature of identity, and makes a strong commentary about a culture obsessed with superficial appearances. The film is filled  with effectively haunting and sometimes disturbing imagery that drives home the point of some of the themes that it explores.

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