are not a lot of fact-checkers working in the documentary film industry. Yet, many people assume anything they saw in
a movie billing itself as a doc must be true.
Although it had its initial Japanese release in 1967, Shohei Imamura’s
docu-deconstruction A Man Vanishes (trailer here) delivers a timely challenge to such
blind faith. Yet, it is still gritty and
noir enough to easily fit within the Asia Society’s mini-retrospective, Vengeance is Shohei Imamura when it
screens (for free) this Saturday.
a salaryman with a steady job and a fiancée, Tadashi Oshima initially seems
like an aptly unremarkable representative of the reported 91,000 Japanese
citizens who vanished without a trace two years prior. However, as Imamura’s on-camera investigator
and Oshima’s intended, Yoshie Hayakawa, his pursue the trail, a very different
had been caught embezzling company funds and was also carrying on with other
women, including perhaps Hayakawa’s sister Sayo, who denies the accusation
vociferously. In fact, the film
ostensibly hinges on the question of who is telling the truth: Sayo Hayakawa or
the witnesses placing her with Oshima.
It all so disillusions Yoshie Hayakawa, she develops a romantic
attachment for the actor playing Imamura’s investigator.
times during the course of the third act, Imamura directly states that this
film is fictional. He even literally
tears down the backdrops he has assembled midway through the climatic confrontation. Yet audiences are so programmed to accept the
documentary form as fact, we still believe when the actors take their “he
said-she said” show out into the streets. It is like we can’t stop being had by
many ways, the dramatized docu-hybrid elements of Vanishes seem decades ahead of their time, especially the trippy sequences
involving the shaman advising Hayakawa, whose rituals would not be out of place
in a straight up genre picture. On the
other hand, the deliberately desynchronized soundtrack harkens back to the
Nouvelle Vague’s trick bag. By the same
token, Kenji Ishigura’s black-and-white cinematography faithfully preserves a
street level time capsule of Tokyo in the mid 1960’s.
At one point, one of the witnesses contradicting
Sayo Hayakawa protests: “I have no reason to lie.” Essentially, Imamura’s entire film serves as
a rejoinder saying: “yes, but you have no reason to tell the truth either.” Evidently, Vanishes started out legit, but circumstances forced Imamura’s
meta-hybrid hand. Still, the
implications regarding the limits of objective filmmaking remain the same. Imamura would in fact make several more
conventional documentaries, but the less politically charged Vanishes, with its woman (or women)
scorned, is more thematically compatible with his hardboiled morality plays. An enigmatic puzzle every cineaste should
enjoy chewing on, A Man Vanishes screens
free of charge this Saturday (1/18) at the Asia Society, as part of their new Vengeance is Shohei Imamura film series.
Labels: Asia Society, Documentary, Shohei Imamura