Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Face, the notion that embarrassment must be avoided, meets its ultimate challenge in the dogged heroine of this peculiarly moving and disturbingly funny film. Japan’s reigning stage actress, Naomi Fujiyama, plays the dowdy and painfully awkward Masako, a virtual slave to her family’s dry-cleaning business. Taunted and abused by her pretty younger sister Yukari, she is trapped until a startling act of violence compels her to flee.
Working as a cleaner in love hotels or a hostess in a karaoke bar she finds fleeting refuge, but she’s a hunted woman and flight becomes her most defining characteristic. Nature and humanity – predatory men, the Kobe earthquake – may seem united against her, but Masako finds the only dignity available to her in simply keeping going. Inspired by a true story,
the film, made by a director best known for inhabiting masculine environments, evokes the back alleys of Japanese life with a lived-in pungency. As Masako, Naomi Fujiyama is in virtually every scene, and the chances are that you won’t be able to take your eyes off her. — BG
Like a road map superimposed on a mug shot, director Junji Sakamoto’s awe-inspiring Face is both a tenderhearted portrait of a truck-shaped seamstress named Masako – victim, murderess, lummox, goddess – and a leather-skinned survey of the geographical and emotional limits of Japanese life. Sakamoto describes it as a ‘crime film’, but society’s the menace here, even if Masako – voluminously embodied by Naomi Fujiyama, Japan’s leading stage actress – does begin her journey toward self-realization with an act of shocking violence.
Distilling all the furiously inchoate feminism of Shohei Imamura’s myriad insect women – along with the slipperiness of his various eels, whales, and other aquatica – into his heroine, Sakamoto has created one of contemporary cinema’s most indomitable, if all too human, forces. Superlatives aren’t enough for this epic and ultimately life-affirming heartbreaker: my favorite Japanese film so far this century, Face is some sort of miracle. — Chuck Stephens, San Francisco Bay Guardian, 25/4/01