SIFF 2013: A Man Vanishes (1967), A Real Unreal Documentary



(d: Shôhei Imamura c: , Japan 1967, 130 min)

I went into A Man Vanishes at Seattle International Film Festival 2013 expecting a documentary, but if you asked me what I actually saw, I couldn't give you a straight answer. I could confidently answer yes, I saw a documentary and no, I didn't.

The movie is supposedly about a Japanese plastics salesman who has gone missing (I had this wrong in my earlier plot synopsis), and his fiancée and Imamura's search for him. It certainly starts that way. We see interviews with the man's friends and associates. We get to know his girl and her sister, with whom she has a challenging relationship.

It is an interesting investigation for the most part, but there is nothing to distinguish it. Then, things suddenly twist. The fiancée falls in love with the filmmaker, and they discuss her feelings coolly, as if they are the weather, or her shopping list. The film starts to feel like fiction, because people don't usually act this way in movies, whether fiction or documentary.

Tension rises between the sisters; they have a trying argument while seated at a table. The conversation is heated, and feels both painfully real and staged at the same time. Then Imamura changes the audience point of view, and you can never be sure again of the difference between reality and fiction.

This is the oddest film. It's funny, but dull. Intriguing, but tiresome. There's nowhere to rest your mind, and every time you feel about to give up on it, something pops up to charm you again. As I knew Imamura was a New Wave director, I expected a free filming style and a few quirks from Man. What I got was much more complicated.

At one point, I remember wanting to leave the theater because I was getting so frustrated by the movie. Several people in the packed house did just that. I couldn't tear myself away though. I refused to miss a moment of this strange spectacle. As I walked out of the screening, a woman huffed, "that was not a satisfying movie," and I kind of knew what she meant, and yet I'm smiling as I write this. Film is rarely this challenging, and I enjoyed being pushed.

Click here for more information about the films at SIFF 2013.

And here is my full coverage of the event.

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