315 Great Directors: Hiroshi Teshigahara

“It was that sympathy which caused me to make the film.”

Why This Director?: Always wanted to see Woman in the Dunes.

My Last Experience Was…: Nope.

What Did I Watch: The entire Criterion set that’s sadly OOP (I’d totally buy it): Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes, Face of Another.

Where Does He Fit: Pitfall starts off in a truly unsettling fashion, with a frightened looking man and his child walking quickly along in the darkness in complete and utter silence…with an occasional sort of honking noise that’s much more unsettling than it sounds pops up occasionally. Everything is incredibly dark, and they are eventually joined by another man as they run alongside some train tracks. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is sort of the ending, with the lead and his quiet son working as miners who end up drifting in their own way through various Japanese deserted hellholes. It’s a quietly intelligent commentary on the coal miner’s strikes of the time, but it is also confusing as hell even when it is utterly gorgeous to watch. The tilted camera angles help us see that the world is out of skew, but everything the characters say sure as hell does not provide anything other than vague and interesting impressionism. There’s definitely a certain sense to the shots of “if we make them showy in this way, they will provide meaning.” It’s basically a gorgeous presentation of material that I worry may just be too culturally rooted in a specific time and locale to really connect (although once the twin mine dynamic comes into play, things get much better).

pitfall

Where Pitfall just left me slightly confused even if I loved how it looked, Woman in the Dunes left me exhilarated despite the fact that I came out of everything that happened to the poor teacher and the woman he was stuck with with approximately the same level of understanding, simply because it is one of the most potently slippery allegories I can think of, shot so as to appear absolutely stunning in all the things that sand can do as it tries to infiltrate. Global warming? The bombing in World War II? Being trapped by life in general? Human beings as insect? Oppressors and the oppressed? It is all there on the gloriously parched canvas that is laid out for us, with one of the most deliriously otherworldly aesthetics I can think of. The fact that Teshigahara was nominated in separate years for Foreign Film and Director at the Academy Awards strikes me as the only just thing to happen, as opposed to an unusual aberration for an organization that usually takes a whole lot of energy in recognizing the foreign. The avant-garde’s moment in the sun could have hardly happened to a better piece of work, with Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida rounding out what makes this special.

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Finally, we come to The Face of Another, and while I have no idea just how much Eyes Without a Face came into play when this was getting created, it seems rather unlikely considering that movie’s critical reputation was still in the toilet and the story was based on a novel by Kobo Abe (who also wrote the novels for the other two works I covered…with the same DP and composers on the Teshigahara films). I was always going to be in the bag for this thanks to Machiko Kyo (her performance in Rashomon really is that incredible), but even then, I was stunned by the casual weirdness of the opening and its replicas of human body parts, followed by a skeleton’s jaw doing the talking. Yet the most delirious sequence of all features the deformed man casually telling his stunned wife that he had half a mind to carve her up until she looked as bad as he did, because of her lies about how a deformity is no big deal. It’s an electric fusion of the righteous and the insane that is precisely where the director’s sweet spot lies.

the-face-of-another

Most Valuable Asset: Dream aesthetic mixed with unbeatable allegory.
Most Excited For: Man Without a Map (his final work with his usual collaborators), Rikyu (his other Oscar submission), and Antonio Gaudi (his attempt at a documentary of sorts).

Coming Up Next: Mexico’s queer director Julian Hernandez.

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