“A Man Vanishes”, Shôhei Imamura’s experimental 1967 film is almost impossible to categorize. It seems like it’s a documentary, a piece of investigative journalism into the disappearance of a man. But as it progresses, the line between real people and actors seems to blur, sets come tumbling down and the director steps into his own film, and declares it all fiction.
“A Man Vanishes”, Shôhei Imamura’s experimental 1967 film is
almost impossible to categorize. It seems like it’s a documentary, a piece of
investigative journalism into the disappearance of a man. But as it progresses,
the line between real people and actors seems to blur,
sets come tumbling down and the director steps into his own film, and declares
it all fiction.
In 1965, a middle age salesman called
Tadashi Oshima disappears while on a
business trip. Two years later, his fiancée Hayakawa
Yoshie is still desperately searching for him. She joins a documentary
team who are investigating the phenomenon known as johatsu – the disappearance of thousands of people every year in Japan. The team tracks diligently down those
who knew Oshima and start to build up a picture of his life.
Quickly, a number of scandals emerge, and stories
of embezzlement, abortions and heavy drinking abound. An hour into the film, a
picture has emerged of a troubled man, but we seem no closer to tracking him
down, and the avenues of investigation seem to have run out. So the crew – in
filmed conversations – decide to take a closer look at the fiancée herself and her relationships. Yoshie, also known as ‘the rat’ is
clearly a difficult character, and as the team investigates her relationship
with her sister, more questions than answers emerge. It seems this all happened
quite authentically: there was no script, and the crew did actually go about
researching lines of investigation to build up a rich body of knowledge.
Much of the second half of the film is focussed on
Yoshie, and she is indeed an interesting character. She is, truly, the fiancée
of the disappeared man, therefore she should be the only genuine character, but
somehow the opposite is true. She seems like she is putting on a performance
for a film, not contributing to a documentary, the love interest ‘subplot’ being
only the most surprising example.
The film is ultimately left without resolution, and
it begins to seem that may have become the point: at some stage, there are so
many conflicting ‘truths’, so many sides to the story, that drawing any
conclusion seems pointless.
The problem with ‘A Man Vanishes’ is that the
concept of it is more interesting that the film itself. It is an important film
because it was part of Imamura’s transition out of the studio world, and we see
him really start to flex his creative muscle. It’s a testing film, and some of
this is good. It keeps you in a state of suspense, testing your allegiances
throughout, making you question the truth of what you’re watching, question
whether some scene or line is planned or spontaneous. But ultimately the film is overly long,
overly dense and at the end, unsatisfying.
The DVD comes with extras including an interview
with the elderly Imumara, conducted by his son, filmmaker Daisuke Tengan. It also has a lengthy interview with Tony Rayns
on the film and Imamura, as well as the original trailer.
To Buy A Man Vanishes on DVD Click Here