Steve G 🟨🟥’s review published on Letterboxd:
The picture you see is no portrait of me,
It's too real to be shown to someone I don't know.
The Face Of Another is one of those rare films that is so completely confident in itself that it will quite happily ask lots of questions of its characters and audience yet provide almost no answers.
I love a film that has that confidence and swagger. It reminds me of David Lynch at his best. It's so completely consumed with its own vision that it's impossible for me to believe anything other than that this is EXACTLY the film that Hiroshi Teshigahara wanted it to be. That vision would only be compromised by gifting us easy answers to so many of the questions that are posed here.
It's also quite Lynchian in its disparate locations. The lab where Tatsuya Nakadai undergoes his transformation and makes regular visits seems a world away from the nondescript streets and houses where most of the rest of the film is set. Its terrifying and completely unexpected, not to mention brilliant, ending also feels like something that Lynch would go on to suddenly hurl at you, in the off chance you were starting to feel comfortable watching one of his films.
As much as Hiroshi Teshigahara is happy to part from reality for the aforementioned scenes and just for the concept himself, he marries that to a stunning early scene where Nakadai weaves his way through a busy street while we are left to watch the reactions of the real people around him to the sight of a man with a fully bandaged head going about his usual business.
It's not so much that he wants to blur the lines between realism and fantasy for us, but more for his characters. When Nakadai is fitted with his mask, his doctor, Mikijirô Hira, repeatedly reminds him of the transformation that it will probably bring out in him. He lectures about its artificiality outside of its actual physical construct and yet, briefly and worryingly, he himself gets drawn into a world of fantasy as he muses about a world where more people wearing masks could change their entire personalities and society at large. In fact, Hira almost referencing the mask as if it's an entity of its own adds some layered psychology to the film that gives it a slightly surreal and horror movie edge.
We also get very little idea of the kind of person that Nakadai was before his disfigurement. Very little reference is made to the man he was before. So we actually have no frame of reference of whether the mask will actually change him or merely revert him back to the man that he was. Has the accident changed him into this unpleasant, psychologically abusive man or merely given him a channel through which to direct these traits?
Nakadai is quite extraordinary early on during those scenes where he is bandaged. It's very difficult to look at this film without also thinking of Les Yeux Sans Visage but I think the way in which The Face Of Another evokes that film is in the similarity of performances between Nakadai and Edith Scob. Both somehow manage to be extraordinarily expressive without hardly any facial features to work with. Their delightfully subtle body language really is so important to their respective films. Nakadai is all slumped shoulders and dragging feet and it's fascinating and quite mesmerising to watch.
The side story involving Miki Irie, which seemingly has no narrative connection to the main bulk of the film, is a bold one for Teshigahara to include. Not just because it is a film completely in itself but because it appears to offer a counterpoint to the main story. Here is a woman that chooses not to mask her disfigurement but yet is accepting of it in a way where she believes that are more important things to worry about in the world.
There's a beautiful love scene with her where a man repeatedly and passionately kisses the side of her face which is damaged. Neither seem bothered by it and as she soon afterwards commits suicide, I was left to conclude that this was a woman that would have chosen this path whatever she looked like and whether she chose to hide it or not. Yet in Nakadai, he's so fixated on fixing his looks and changing them, but in the end it provides him with no happiness or positivity at all.
Smart touches such as Teshigahara more or less holding off on incidental music until a later scene where Nakadai spies on his wife, Machiko Kyô, with the sole purpose of seducing her while disguised, just help to further enhance one of the most adroitly constructed films I could ever wish to see. The Face Of Another is a film where both beauty and ugliness are called into question and it is suggested they could never co-exist. The message is a brutal one but beautifully delivered.