Mark, just show my fucking movie..."
Ok, so this isn't another post about the Caveh/Cuban debate. And that isn't Zahedi wrapped in bandages in the photo. It is, however, Tatsuya Nakudai starring in Hiroshi Teshigahara's terrific The Face of Another which is now screening on a beautiful new print as part of a mini-retro put together by the fine folks at Criterion. Currently touring with planned stops in Huntington, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh in the Spring, and more to come for the Summer, the retro also showcases his first feeature Pitfall, his most well-known film Woman in the Dunes, and his unique documentary Antonio Gaudí. It's a small series, but with Teshigahara's limited output (he took a lengthy break throughout the 80s to devote himself to flower arrangement), it’s only a few features and shorts shy of complete. And given that all three of the fiction features are based on the writings of Kobo Abe and all four films are augmented by Tôru Takemitsu scores, it’s a terrific opportunity to witness an evolving collaboration.
By all means, if you can only see one film, try Woman in the Dunes. Universally lauded with good reason, Teshigahara’s second adaptation of Abe marks perhaps the highpoint of accessibility for both artists. The allegory of humankind built around an amateur entomologist who becomes trapped at the bottom of a sandpit with a lonely widow may seem stale 40 years on, but what’s truly miraculous is how Teshigahara navigates the close confines of the sandpit, always finding new angles through which to view his intricate pas de deux. It’s claustrophobic, but somehow never limited.
Pitfall, based on a satirical Abe short story shows Teshigahara’s sensibility firmly established from the start even if his command of the same may not be fully in place—it's tonally off from time to time, and his narrative ellipses aren't quite perfectly pitched. But it’s The Face of Another, built around Nakudai’s sensational performance (it may be one of the best to see screens this year) that is the true find. Questions of identity and morality swirl as Nakudai’s horribly disfigured character assumes a lifelike mask and sets out to re-enter society and seduce his wife. Woman, Pitfall and Face all feature moments of startling, visceral carnality that are as crucial to defining Teshigahara’s cinema as his paranoid worldview that seems often unbound by typical cinematic rules and restraints—spaces and identities constantly shatter, and its always at question whether its his characters who are caught in all the allegorical questioning, or his audience. These movies are even more bizarre than most Imamura (that’s saying a lot) and approach the heights of narrative schizophrenia established by Oshima (perhaps saying even more).
The odd duck of the series, Antonio Gaudí, is, as its title would suggest a work about the architect. But instead of presenting a standard biopic, Teshigahara plows through the fantastic shapes and spaces of Gaudí’s buildings, which are like nothing on Earth, while Takemitsu’s score plinks away in the background. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen it in nearly 4 years, so can’t quite remember it fully, but I do know that I caught it after an early morning matinee of Tarsem’s The Cell (starring J-lo) and it shouldn’t be hard to guess which one was the more mind-expanding.
If this isn't on the schedule at your local rep house, lobby for it.