DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
A MAN VANISHES (NINGEN JOHATSU) (director/writer: Shohei Imamura; screenwriter: Koji Numata/story by Akiyuki Nosaka; cinematographer: Kenji Ishiguro; editor: Matsuo Tanji; music: Toshiro Mayazumi; cast: Yoshie Hayakawa (Fiancee of Oshima Tadashi, the missing person), Shigeru Tsuyuguchi (Filmmaker-Interviewer), Sayo Hayakawa (Yoshie's older sister); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Shohei Imamura; Eureka Entertainment; 1967-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

"Messy experimental pic that starts out as a documentary but changes to fiction."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Shohei Imamura ("The Eel"/"Black Rain"/"Dr. Akagi"), who was born in 1926 and died in 2006, directs this messy experimental pic that starts out as a documentary but changes to fiction when the story about the disappearance from Tokyo, for no apparent reason, on April 1965, of the 32-year-old ordinary plastics salesman, Oshima Tadashi, a quiet man of a medium build, who is still missing when filming began in 1967, runs into a dead-end. Ultimately Imamura asks the simplistic question if even using the objective documentary techniques, can the truth ever be found in film, or by any form or technique, as it seems its boundaries are always blurred by fiction? The film wasn't released in America until 45-years after its initial release in Japan.

The studied case is taken from the police files, where we learn that some 91,000 Japanese disappeared that year and were not located. Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, an actor, plays the interviewer who goes out with a film crew to question those who knew Oshima, co-workers, lovers, friends and relatives, to see if they can either locate him or find out his motive by retracing his steps and learning about his background. They attempt a similar investigation that detectives would do, and in some ways this is like a police procedural pic. The film crew interviews the big boss, Mr. Oka, of the plastics company, who relates that in 1961 Oshima embezzled a large sum of money from the firm but retained his position since the CEO knew him from childhood and that Oshima had his wages docked to pay back the money. Oshima's fiancee, Yoshie Hayakawa, professes her love for him, but it so self-centered and her story is not readily believable, that the crew grew to dislike her and nicknamed her "the Rat." Yoshie's older sister, Sayo,  is depicted as the mistress of a married man and a  former geisha with a checkered past who sis believes is capable of murdering Oshima if he rejected her. Also tracked down is a young woman, Kimiko, a waitress the missing man might have impregnated, which is denied by the lady. Oshima's working-class married brother reveals his sibling borrowed money to help pay back his embezzlement debts and didn't seem unduly troubled. There's also a medium, who at first believes Oshima's haunted from the spirit world by a relative who threw herself in front of a train and then reverses herself to say his disappearance has something to do with the bad vibes from Sayo.

It becomes difficult to know for sure what is happening, as there are contradicting stories and everyone vows they are telling only what they know. Privacy is invaded as the filmmaker uses hidden cameras and microphones but comes no closer to the truth or finding the missing man. The hidden microphones pick up that Yoshie is making a play for the interviewer, which she later says was because she was lonely.

In any case, Imamura is content to end this farce by suggesting all art (film) is subjective and the truth is always elusive, like a vanishing man. Since Kurosawa's enjoyable samurai classic already established for film goers how elusive the truth is, I can't really say how valuable this film is for laying on us such old news. Nevertheless the experimental film is  provocative in trying to determine in an underhanded way what it is about a film that makes you like it (which I think might be a stronger theme for the film than trying to understand what is the truth).

REVIEWED ON 12/25/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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