Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stereoscopic Vision: “The Face of Another” (1966) by Hiroshi Teshigahara from the Criterion Collection

The Psychiatrist, Dr. Hira (Mikijirô Hira) and patient, Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) with homage to the Cubist’s technique of frontal and profile simultaneous views.

Hiroshi Teshigahara based his ultra mannerist and expressionistic art-house film on the novel by Kōbō Abe. The film is extraordinary because it seems each frame is very thoughtfully composed and realized through bold photography, which is aesthetically stunning. The film’s impact relies on careful observation of details and juxtaposed images characterized by similarity and vivid contrasts. The film’s wonderful set designs were developed by the collaboration of Metabolism architect, Arata Isozaki and art director, Masao Yamazaki. Throughout the film one is attuned to the surroundings, ambiance, and visual design, which are especially dominant and striking, particularly in the set design of the doctor’s clinic.

The design and direction of the film graphically highlights the visual elements of textures, patterns, repetitions, rhythms, and negative and positive space. The set designer’s use of mirrors, triangulated glass cages and partitions often form images that expose reflections, echoes, duplicates, doubling, and reveal multiple views of the actors. Thematically, the effect of these multiple perspectives alludes to the fluctuation of one’s memory and identity and the binary self. According to James Quandt in his video essay about the film, the central theme of the film is that while the characters see themselves in the mirror proves they still exist, they don’t always like what they see.

Quandt further explains that the filmmaker, Teshigahara, who was educated as an art student has expressed his adoration of mid-twentieth century contemporary art, specifically the work of Dalí, Ernst, Picasso, Pollock, and Mondrian. Appreciation for visual art and design is very apparent in the film’s iconography.

Quandt explains: “The theme of unmoored identity and fragmented consciousness finds its equivalent in the opening images of isolated limbs and in the truncated, neocubist shots of lips, fingers, back of the head that introduce Machiko Kyo as the wife. The mirror imagery so prevalent in Abe’s work, derived in part from an ancient Japanese origin myth, gets refracted in the film’s insistent images of glass.”

Interestingly, viewing the movie reminded me of a passage in Roy Behren’s book, False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (1), in which he discusses stereoscopic vision by describing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as stereoscopic models. Behrens writes, “Viewed separately, they themselves do not make tropes. Instead, the author [Cervantes], who makes them happen by presenting simultaneously two divergent points of view, and by those who read the novel, who recreates those sort-crossings in the process of reading, makes the metaphors.” Behren’s goes on to quote Michel Foucault, which seems to relate hauntingly to The Face of Another. Foucault says in his book, The Order of Things…, “Don Quixote is the first modern work of literature, because in it we see the cruel reason of identities and differences make endless sport of signs and similitudes…[the madman] is the man who is alienated in analogy. He takes things for what they are not, and people one for another; he cuts his friends and recognizes complete strangers; he thinks he is unmasking when, in fact, he is putting on a mask…he is unaware of Difference.” (2)

  1. Behrens, Roy R. False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage. Dysart, IA: Bobolink Books, 2002. 206. Print.
  2. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1973. 48-49. Print.

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