Blanched abstractions in human form fill the first scene, a floating ersatz hand is picked up and a finger is broken off: "Recognize these?" Hiroshi Teshigahara trains the x-ray on his disfigured protagonist and gets a talking skull, who, as a "cautionary example," wants to be remembered. Defaced by an explosion, Modern Man (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an existential mummy, brooding from beneath his bandages and yearning to pluck out humanity's collective eye. The creation of a skin mask, modeled after a stranger's visage, is a risky experiment but Nakadai is desperate to blend in again with society's modernist surfaces. The psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) fancies himself a visionary and enjoys the process as much as the patient, he replaces the melted face with a new one, plays Mr. Potato Head with beards and mustaches, and finally coaxes a smile out of it. A wide variety of texts are cited -- The Invisible Man, Dark Passage, Eyes without a Face, Repulsion. As with Majano's Atom Age Vampire, Hiroshima's chill lurks in the mix: A lovely woman (Miki Irie) in profile ignores catcalls, then turns to reveal a charred cheek and is saluted by old soldiers. In the land of darkness and disorientating shards, identity is elastic ("The shape of the glove changes with the user"), and Nakadai goes from a projection of anatomical illustrations to an anxious hepcat trying on the new fašade for the women of his life. The acid test for the incognito protagonist is seducing his own wife (Machiko Kyo), who reminds him of the importance of cosmetics in relationships. Kobo Abe's novel builds toward the excoriating image of the surge of featureless pedestrians, Teshigahara's icy treatment is unsettling (the close, handheld filming at the surgeon's table shows a sculptor's mind at work). The age of masks -- who wears what? Frankenheimer ponders the same dilemma in Seconds, Miike remembers the man with a half-peeled face (Ichi the Killer). With Kyoko Kishida. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce