Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Mikijirô Hira, Miki Irie
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Running Time: 122 mins
The Face Of Another is a Japanese film about a man with a disfigured face who receives a lifelike mask from an experimental psychiatrist, however the mask begins to change his personality.
For striking, atmospheric and unsettling filmmaking, there are few better eras to look to than the Japanese New Wave, and so proves the case once again with The Face Of Another. An intriguing take on the body horror genre, grounding the face transplant premise in reality while still retaining its innate unearthly eeriness, it’s a rather affecting film, and although it doesn’t quite stick the landing at every moment, its ingenuity and boldness is something to marvel at from beginning to end.
Above all, the cinematography and directing are what really make this film what it is. Hiroshi Teshigahara, director of the even more disturbing Woman In The Dunes, brings a stunning atmosphere to proceedings here, with a piercingly unsettling vibe that permeates through the entire film, achieved through the use of excellent cinematography that includes uncomfortable close-ups, unearthly, sterilised settings, and dark, ominous lighting in pretty much every scene.
As a result, the film is addictive to look at, and while its story and atmosphere may create that effectively unsettling vibe throughout, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen, such is the brilliance of the cinematography, thereby further engrossing and immersing you in this ever more unnerving and intriguing story.
Now, hearing this premise, you’ll likely think of another film from the era that’s pretty much the same: director Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face. Another New Wave feature about a face transplant that alters a person’s personality, the similarities between the two are clear, but it would be a mistake to expect the same from The Face Of Another.
Eyes Without A Face is a horror movie, delving deep into gruesome body horror as well as what is effectively a terrifyingly eerie ghost story, taking the effect of the face transplant in sinister and deeply disturbing directions. The Face Of Another, on the other hand, is a more grounded psychological drama, and while its premise is certainly similar, it takes a wider focus on the effect of a face transplant, looking at it from a more real-world perspective.
So, while there are elements of body horror here, there’s nothing quite like what you see from Eyes Without A Face. Instead, the film looks at how someone’s personality can change so quickly and dramatically at its core just from changing appearance, whether it be for better or for worse. Also, the film crafts deep intrigue as it looks at the effect of a new appearance on those around the main character, with a pointed commentary on a modern culture that prioritises appearance over all else.
That’s where the film proves most interesting, and over the course of the first half and a bit in particular, it’s an impressively grounded psychological drama that still retains the striking eeriness of a New Wave body horror.
However, while that’s certainly the film’s most intriguing theme, it is also the point that causes The Face Of Another to fall apart to a certain extent over the course of its final act, taking a disappointingly one-note approach to the main story that fails to build on the depth of intrigue established earlier on.
Simply put, the film slows down significantly in its final forty minutes or so, with a number of lengthy conversations between the main character and the psychiatrist that effectively boil down to how much a new appearance can change you, without really offering up anything more interesting.
The final act does have its moments, and the developing relationship between the man with the disfigured face and his wife is particularly interesting towards the end, but I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the finale here, as the film draws to a conclusion in rather boring fashion.
Overall, though, there’s no denying that The Face Of Another is a very impressive film. With thrilling directing and cinematography at every moment, it’s an addictive and enthralling psychological drama, furthered by a screenplay that takes an intriguing and grounded approach to its story. It might not quite carry everything through perfectly towards the finish, but it’s an impressive and memorable piece of filmmaking regardless, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.