A damaged man loses his individuality and is devoured by a manufactured plastic persona, a mask that seems to have a life of its own. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara explores themes of alienation from society and oneself in this bifurcated tale of divorced identity and marital discourse.
Okuyama is disfigured in an industrial accident and now hides his visage behind a veil of bandages. A Psychiatrist and plastic surgeon agrees to create a new face for Okuyama, but warns him of the possible dire consequences. But Okuyama’s desire to become a part of society once again actually isolates him from the world, and he even sinks so low as to seduce his own wife. Okuyama is first introduced from inside out, in a talking x-ray, where we actually peer beneath the soft veneer of his face. We are never shown Okuyama as he was a priori, eschewing flashbacks or exposition, so we know very little of his personality. Teshigahara also hides the deformity by shooting through bubbled glass or quick cut-away, creating a very mysterious and surreal atmosphere. He obfuscates the narrative by depicting a parallel tale of perversity: a young woman who caries the radiation scars from Nagasaki on one-half of her face, and her incestuous relationship with her brother. Though these two stories never collide, the characters never meet, they both suffer the same dementia. One is lost in a foaming sea and the other drowns in a faceless crowd, both vaporized in an internal nuclear Armageddon.
Teshigahara conflates common themes of the human need to take on different identities to survive, but not necessarily becoming different people: such as, a woman's desire to hide inside of a mask of makeup or wear a silk veil, empowering her revelation to one she trusts, who earns the right. Teshigahara films in strange oblique angles with stuttering and repetitive editing techniques, and surreal set-pieces like the glass ether of the doctor's office. The soundtrack whispers eerie secrets with disjointed creaking notes, and ghostly backlighting compounded with quick-zooms and dehumanizing extreme close-up, subsuming identity beyond the full-frame, creating an almost supernatural rhythm and rhyme to the narrative.
Okuyama must destroy the creator of his mask, severing the final vestige of self, now totally free to become a new man...but remains only a stranger with his own hands.
Final Grade: (A)