Cast & Crew
Okuyama, an industrialist, seriously burns his face in an explosion while inspecting his new factory; and although he is still able to see and talk, his scarred face causes him anxiety. A plastic surgeon creates a lifelike mask for him, and when Okuyama's wife passionately seduces him in his new "identity," he accuses her of adultery. She claims that she knew it was he, and she leaves him. Okuyama is arrested for attempted rape, and he kills the surgeon who he believes is responsible for his misery.
Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara Including WOMAN IN THE DUNES on DVD
The arresting ironic allegory Pitfall toys with thriller elements, and then turns back on itself with existential questions. It's formulated as a film blanc, but with a European pace and fewer romantic options. An unemployed miner with a small son (Hisashi Igawa & Kazuo Miyahara) finds a strange deserted mining town. Gunned down by a mysterious Man in White (Kunie Tanaka), the miner returns as a ghost to witness his own murder investigation. The police soon give up but some reporters discover that the miner is a dead ringer for Otsuka, a union organizer: the killer may have thought he was shooting the controversial Otsuka, or was purposely trying to frame a rival union official for the crime. Meanwhile, the miner's ghost creeps back through the mud to the shanty town, to discover that a shopkeeper there (Sumie Sasaki) has taken money from the Man in White to mislead the police. As more bodies pile up, more ghosts assemble to view the confusing mess that transported them to their odd new existence.
Only once in Pitfall do we really know where we are: the dead miner suddenly vaults upright and becomes a ghost, via the same reverse-filming trick used at the end of Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. Most everything else treads unfamiliar ground, starting with the mudflats and dry roads where most of the action takes place. The living don't seem to have a clue as to the meaning of their lives, and mostly bide their time waiting to be moved along to the next level of consciousness. The miner discovers that he'll forever remain as he was when he died, and is assured that his desire to discover why he was murdered will soon fade. But there's more violence to come, thanks to a union rights subplot that's never fully developed.
As in the other Hiroshi Teshigahara film, what keeps Pitfall cooking are its arresting visuals and intriguingly paced storytelling. Teshigahara plays with various elements, like the little boy who shows no interest when his father dies but is keen to sneak back to the shopkeeper's house to filch candies. The movie flirts with police procedurals and a journalistic subplot, but those concerns quickly dovetail back to the main premise: against the quirks of fate, struggle is futile. The amusing Pitfall contains many near-hypnotic B&W images, such as the sight of the young boy's eye peeking through a knothole, or the literal ghost town of identical, abandoned shacks.
Woman in the Dunes is considered Teshigahara's masterpiece and is his only film to be well received by American art movie audiences. It had everything for the 1964 espresso crowd: beautiful B&W photography, a gripping story and a little sex thrown in for good measure. It was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1965; a year later Teshigahara received an even more impressive Best Director nomination. The appeal of the disarmingly simple storyline could be expressed with the buzzwords of the day: "meaningful allegory"; "rumination on the meaning of life."
A Tokyo schoolteacher on a weekend insect-catching holiday (Eiji Okada of Hiroshima, mon amour) lingers too long in a sandy area near the sea. Some helpful locals suggest he stay overnight, and help him down a rope ladder to the shack of a gracious woman (Kyoko Kishida of Manji). The next morning, the teacher is a prisoner in a furtive community of isolated sand-dwellers. Climbing out of the pit is impossible, and he and the woman must labor all night to collect sand to be hauled out on buckets dropped on ropes from above. The teacher rebels and refuses to help at first. He fails in an escape attempt and over time falls into a relationship with the woman. As he becomes accustomed to his new life, the teacher begins to accept responsibility for fighting back the sand.
Woman in the Dunes invents an semi-plausible alternate lifestyle. Our hero has only two choices: work to keep the sand from overrunning the shack, or perish. He and the lonely woman (she lost her husband and child the year before) concern themselves with immediate issues that cannot be ignored. Their entire world is limited to a shack on just a few square yards of pit, with sand that seeps through the roof and gets into everything. The woman demonstrates that the sand is unaccountably moist and rots everything; she sleeps in the nude to keep from chafing. They awaken each morning covered with a fine dusting of sand. The pair must follow strange procedures to keep the sand out of their hair and out of the food that's dropped to them every week or so; all larger concerns are eclipsed by the constant struggle.
Woman in the Dunes delights lovers of still photography and nature studies. Teshigahara described the sand as the film's third main character and we see it behaving like a living thing. Dunes are formed into crumbling cliffs or lined with perfectly formed ripples; and always seems to be on the move, whether wind-blown or following the dictates of gravity. American viewers in particular weren't accustomed to the 'background' of a film intruding this strongly on the foreground, and surely decided that the stress on immense natural forces was a 'Japanese' quality.
Instead of finding resignation and defeat, the teacher eventually embraces his new 'wife' and his new life. He finds that he can collect pure water from the bottom of the sand pit through capillary action in a wooden bucket. He's eager to share the discovery with his peers and gain the approval denied him back in the 'big world'. Late night filmgoer discussions were divided between philosophical interpretations. Did the teacher open up to a new inner freedom afforded by an uncomplicated new life, or did he simply knuckle under to an imposed regime, as in a totalitarian society?
Mr. Okuyama's (Tatsuya Nakadai) face has been horribly disfigured in an industrial accident. His head wrapped in bandages, Okuyama festers in isolation, withdraws from his job and badgers his wife (Machiko Kyo) for wanting to evade his cruel accusations. A psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) offers Okuyama an unethical but fascinating possibility: he and his nurse (Kyoko Kishida) will fashion a sophisticated mask that will allow the scarred man to reconnect with life and society. Okuyama instead uses the mask to create a secondary, furtive identity. Okuyama immediately overreaches: his idea of a proper use for his secret identity is to seduce his own wife, and thereby prove her to be unfaithful.
It should be obvious why international audiences didn't accept the impressively produced and well acted The Face of Another. This Sci-Fi horror show functions in a normal urban environment instead of a remote wasteland or the exotic, erotic sandpit of Woman in the Dunes. The defenders of the film refer to classical and artistic precedent for Teshigahara's inspirations, when any fan can see that he and author Kobo Abe are arranging visuals already familiar from commercial genre films. Thirdly, although it brings up many fascinating and cerebral ideas, The Face of Another is just too talky; it probably has more subtitles than the other two films put together.
The key genre connection is Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face, a gory surgery tale that implied some of the same thoughts about personal identity. We empathized with the masked madwoman in Franju's movie, where Teshigahara and Abe merely tell us that "The face is the door to the soul." Both films begin with a waltz over the title sequence, and each injects a tangential reference to Nazi Germany. Teshigahara's technical tricks are excellent -- we have difficulty deciding when Tatsuya Nakadai is wearing a full mask and when he uses his real face -- but the plot is overly mannered and predictable. Like the mad scientist of The Invisible Man, Okuyama's alienation leads to an anti-social mindset. He's determined to oppress his wife and learns nothing when he fails, so we certainly don't identify with him. Okuyama calls himself a monster and is soon behaving along misanthropic lines.
Because the emotional foundation is faulty, The Face of Another's stylistic flourishes lack impact. The psychiatrist's abstracted office set looks like a collection of glass partitions in an art exhibit, arranged to set up decorative reflection effects and optical illusions. Nurse Kishida makes the super-convincing mask from a special goo that resembles the 'synthetic flesh' from the ancient Michael Curtiz horror show Doctor X.
Teshigahara then dilutes Okuyama's story with a dubious subplot that begins as a (letterboxed) vision of a film Okuyama may have watched in a movie theater. A facially scarred young woman (fashion model Miki Irie) does piecework with her brother, suffers in public and is molested by a deranged soldier at the veteran's hospital where she washes laundry. Obsessed with Hiroshima and war -- she seems too young for her scars to have been caused by radiation -- the girl is similarly driven to erratic sexual behavior. Her story ends with a melodramatic cliché, followed by the bizarre poetic visual of her brother transformed into a tortured animal carcass by a piercing beam of light. Unlike the frightening 'atomic sunset' that concludes Akira Kurosawa's I Live in Fear, Teshigahara's shock image comes out of nowhere and doesn't elicit any particular emotional response.
Okuyama's finale combines The Twilight Zone with Jack the Ripper, as Toru Takemitsu's whining soundtrack grinds and snaps. For educated film critics, the faceless horde that crowds the sidewalks may evoke themes from surreal paintings. To genre filmgoers it simply resembles watered down Cocteau, as in the group of faceless girls in the dream art museum in Jack Garfein's 1961 Something Wild. The 'shocking' effects are too familiar, and too tame. The Face of Another verbally expresses many interesting ideas about the nature of identity, especially when the psychiatrist makes a case for anonymity as the ultimate personal freedom.
Criterion's disc set Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara departs somewhat from their older formula of presenting prime source interviews and exhibits. A lengthy video essay by critic James Quandt accompanies each film. Quandt's analytical narration is backed by appropriate images from the film, stills from other movies, word definitions, etc.. In a way, this is a good substitute for feature length commentaries, as the content is presented more compactly. Not every movie is Citizen Kane with two hours of essential comment to impart. Each disc also has an original Toho trailer.
A fourth disc contains some unexpected treasures. The new documentary Teshigahara and Abe examines the collaboration of writer and director, with input from Richard Peña, Donald Richie and Tadao Sato, and testimony from designer Arata Isozaki, writer John Nathan and producer Noriko Nomura. Even more exciting are four of Hiroshi Teshigahara's excellent short films. 1956's Hokusai covers the life and work of an 18th century woodcut artist and painter. 1958's Ikebana is a beautifully directed color movie about art and creativity that shows Hiroshi's father, a famous artist and flower arranger, at work in the academy that he founded. One impressive scene shows him evaluating his students' work. Tokyo 1958 is a rougher documentary about trends in the rebounding Japanese capitol. 1965's Ako is a compelling look at a Japanese teenager's date night with two other couples; it uses telling voiceover bites to express teen attitudes and viewpoints.
A fat booklet contains essays by Peter Grilli, Howard Hampton, Audie Bock and James Quandt, plus a Max Tessler interview with director Teshigahara. Be careful when replacing the individual disc holders in the sleeve case, as the card stock wants to snag on an anti-theft strip glued inside.
For more information about Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara Including WOMAN IN THE DUNES on DVD
The Face of Another
Based on a novel by Woman in the Dunes author Kobo Abe, The Face of Another opens with Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai), a wealthy chemist, being treated for his horribly scarred face, which was recently disfigured in an explosion. Until the doctor (Mikijiro Hira) can successfully render the prosthetic mask that will become Okuyama's new face, the patient lives a faceless existence, his head swathed in bandages with visible openings only for his eyes, nose and mouth, giving him the appearance of a burn victim. Argumentative and full of self-loathing, he temporarily leaves his wife and takes a separate apartment in preparation for the surgery. Once Okuyama is fitted with his artificial face, however, his mental state becomes increasingly anxious and paranoid, driving him to test his new identity in bizarre ways. Passing himself off as a complete stranger, he sets out to seduce his wife whom he suspects of infidelity. Their subsequent affair ends with a surprising revelation for Okuyama but it also propels him to sever all ties between himself and his surgeon/psychiatrist who has been closely monitoring his erratic behavior. Adding an extra layer of unease to the proceedings is a parallel storyline about a nurse in a psychiatric ward whose face was badly scarred in the bombing of Nagasaki. Shunned as an outcast, the girl's intense loneliness drives her into an incestuous affair with her brother, the only person who accepts her as she is, and the consequences are tragic for both.
The shadow of the atom bomb hangs heavily over The Face of Another and was a topic Teshigahara was well versed in, having worked as an assistant to leftist documentarian Gumio Kamei on It Was Good to Live, a 1956 portrait of Hiroshima A-bomb victims, as well as his own documentary on atomic bomb testing, The World Is Terrified (1957). The Face of Another also shares a similar visual aesthetic with such French New Wave films as Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965) in its depiction of alienation in contemporary society. In addition to the issue of personal identity, cultural identity - particularly Japan's - is explored in scenes such as the one in which Okuyama and his psychiatrist visit a Bavarian bar. As they sip German beer from tankards, they are serenaded by a Japanese cabaret singer (Bibari "Beverly" Maeda) performing a German song. It's one of many disorienting sequences in a film that uses the brilliant music score of Toru Takemitsu to provide a striking contrast between what we are seeing and what we are hearing. Much of the time the cold, clinical atmosphere of the surgeon's office and Okuyama's anonymous wanderings along crowded city streets are accompanied by Takemitsu's lush orchestrations which are sweeping, romantic and very Western.
Takemitsu had collaborated before with Teshigahara on the music scores to Pitfall (1962) and Woman in the Dunes and would work with him a total of four times including this feature and The Man Without a Map (1968). Novelist/screenwriter Kobo Abe was also a four-time collaborator with Teshigahara, working with him on the same four movies that Takemitsu scored. All three men shared an interest in the avant-garde and experimentation with their own mediums. They were also bound together by their World War II experiences and a fascination with exploring Japan's identity in the post-war years and the impact of Western society on it. As Toru Takemitsu once stated, "Because of World War II, the dislike of things Japanese continued for some time and was not easily wiped out. Indeed, I started as a composer by denying any 'Japaneseness.'" This very sentiment is treated in the form of an allegory in Teshigahara's The Face of Another.
Unfortunately, few American critics responded favorably to The Face of Another. Most of them were put off by the film's chilly exterior and the unsympathetic protagonist played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who is best known to Japanese film buffs as Toshiro Mifune's opponent in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) and the same director's later Kagemusha (1980). Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote, "...It talks too much and too foolishly for its own good, like someone who can only be reassured by the sound of his own voice...As fiction it's too fanciful to be seriously compelling and too glib to be especially thought-provoking." The reviewer for Variety didn't warm up to it either, stating, "This disconcerting combination of the arbitrary and the elegant does not make for empathy and, further, the "moral" is not (as in Woman in the Dunes) dramatized...The film is static and ice-cold, and it is just this combination which creates an interest which might be described as morbid...And this is, perhaps, all that the creators intended." Even in Japan, The Face of Another was unfavorably compared to the director's previous success, Woman in the Dunes.
More than forty years later, however, The Face of Another is recognized by many film scholars as one of the major Japanese films of the sixties and certainly one of Teshigahara's key achievements. Among the many admirers is Jaspar Sharp, who points out in his Midnight Eye essay, that "Rather than milk it for all of its sensationalistic aspects, The Face of Another delves deeper into the psychological and philosophical ramifications of the premise, of how this small space situated above the neck serves the multiple purposes of a proof of one's identity, a means of conveying one's emotions and an interface with one's fellow beings, mediating between the mind behind it and the outside world...It is a great-looking, highly intelligent and unique piece of work that admirably encapsulates the progressive spirit of the times."
Producer: Nobuyo Horiba, Kiichi Ichikawa, Tadashi Oono, Hiroshi Teshigahara
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Screenplay: Kobo Abe
Cinematography: Hiroshi Segawa
Film Editing: Fusako Shuzui
Art Direction: Arata Isozaki, Masao Yamazaki
Music: Toru Takemitsu
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai (Mr. Okuyama), Machiko Kyo (Mrs. Okuyama), Mikijiro Hira (Psychiatrist), Kyoko Kishida (Nurse), Eiji Okada (Mr. Okuyama's boss).
by Jeff Stafford
The Face of Another
You're not the only lonely man. Being free always involves being lonely. Just there is a mask you can peel off and another you can not.- Psychiatrist
Released in Japan in July 1966 as Tanin no kao.
Released in United States 1966
A scientist, whose face was disfigured in a chemical accident, creates a handsome mask that he wears. After he seduces his wife while wearing it, he accuses her of adultery.
Released in United States 1966