Disfigurement, mutilation, murder, revenge, atonement — all ideas often found lurking around horror films. However, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another is no horror film. It’s closer to the realm of contemporary sci-fi, which I’ve always felt hasty upon entering. After having read my fair share of books and seeing enough “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to jade me to the point of blindness, I’ve always felt rather biased towards the genre. Luckily, there are films like The Face of Another that give science fiction a good name and show us that not all of the genre is made of lost causes with giant flying chicken nuggets (see: Phantom Planet).
Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) has become horribly disfigured after an accident. His face will never be the same, and he must wander the streets with a bandaged visage that does nothing but draw attention, repulse his wife, and render his regular life a hopeless wreck. However, his psychiatrist (Mikijirô Hira) has suggested a possible solution to his problem: craft a synthetic face from that of a stranger. While this mask restores Okuyama’s old life, it takes a terrible toll on his new one.
The Face of Another’s most admirable trait is its amazing ability to create unforgettable scenes. The film wastes no time into throwing us into disdainful conversations between Okuyama and his ambitious psychiatrist. These sets tend to be dominated mostly by white, with bizarre images of drawn bodies that outline their carefully construed plans. They go back and forth exchanging ideas, bouncing off each other, and it is absolutely intoxicating. The more they scheme to right the wrongs, the more absorbing the picture becomes. Scenes begin to fill with people, and as society fills, sets become unsteady and nervous.
There aren’t many outside characters within The Face of Another. Okuyama, his wife (Machiko Kyô), and the psychiatrist are the most common people we’ll see. However, despite the slim cast list, all roles play a delicate part in the attitude and shaping of Okuyama. Portrayed with and without a mask, one gauges Okuyama as two vastly different characters from opposite parts of the world. Both have different perspectives, or so we are led to believe. But how different are they really? Appearance is what we concentrate on, what we’re constantly exposed to. It becomes the film’s centerpiece character.
As far as I’m concerned, there are no flaws to be found here. The Face of Another is a standout example of modern science fiction. Teshigahara does nothing but surprise the viewer at every turn with his brilliant work. The minor twists and tweaks throughout provide interesting commentary on the idea of disfigurement in society. If you’re into a picture that will make you think, has deep characters, and embraces a bizarrely experimental style, look no further than The Face of Another for your fix.