Okuyama's face was disfigured in an industrial accident, and his face is completely covered in burns; he wears bandages to cover them. He visits Dr. Hira, a psychiatrist who is able to fashion a "mask" for Okuyama to wear which is indistinguishable from the face on which it is modeled.
Hira and Okuyama pay a man 10,000 yen to serve as the model for the mask, and the mask is built and fitted onto Okuyama. Hira cautions Okuyama that the mask may change his behavior and personality so much that he will cease to be the same person that he was. Hira believes that this disassociation with his identity will cause Okuyama to lose his sense of morality if he is not careful. Okuyama tells no one that he has received the mask, and simply lives as a new man, telling his wife that he is traveling on business while he rents an apartment nearby.
Interleaved throughout the film is a separate tale (present in Abe's original novel in the form of a movie the protagonists watches at a cinema and then recounts) of a young woman whose otherwise beautiful face suffered a severe disfigurement on the right cheek, and right side of the neck. She works in a home for World War II veterans and lives with her brother. The imagery of the film, as well as her obsessive worry about the coming of another war, and her asking her brother if he still remembers the sea at Nagasaki (presumably from their childhood there), all suggest that her scars came as a result of the atomic bombing of that city. Like Okuyama, she is embarrassed by her disfigurement.Tatsuya Nakadai - Mr. Okuyama
Machiko Kyō - Mrs. Okuyama
Mikijirō Hira - Dr. Hira
Kyōko Kishida - Nurse
Eiji Okada - The Boss
Minoru Chiaki - Apartment Superintendent
Hideo Kanze - Male Patient
Kunie Tanaka - Patient at Mental Hospital
Etsuko Ichihara - Yo-Yo Girl
Miki Irie - Girl with Scar
Eiko Muramatsu - Secretary
Yoshie Minami - Old Lady
Hisashi Igawa - Man with Mole
Kakuya Saeki - Elder Brother of Girl with Scar
The film is often described as being the third in a trilogy of films by Teshigahara, following his two earlier films Pitfall and The Woman in the Dunes. These were both also based on novels by Kōbō Abe, shot by Hiroshi Segawa, and scored by Toru Takemitsu. Like the other two films, The Face of Another was shot in black and white and in full-frame aspect ratio, even though these formats had gone out of style by the time of its production. Common themes in these films deal are identity, masks, doppelgangers, and distorted social relations.
The film uses several doublings of shots, both by repeating shots verbatim and by placing the main character in nearly identical shots twice. The most obvious example is in Okuyama's two separate rentals of apartments, once masked, and once with his new face. These doublings highlight Okuyama's double existence.
One recurring image is the large and small severed ears which appears in the scenery in several scenes. These ears were designed and sculpted by Japanese sculptor Tomio Miki.
Hira's office, a strange blank space with glass partitions, was designed by architect Arata Isozaki, a friend of Teshigahara's. The glass walls are painted with Langer's lines and the Vitruvian Man.
The Face of Another had a roadshow on 15 July 1966 in Japan where it was distributed by Toho. The film received general release in Japan on 23 September 1967.
The film received a theatrical release in the United States on June 9, 1967. It was re-issued in the United States in May 1975 by Rising Sun and Toho.
The Face of Another won awards at the Mainichi Film Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Film Score. It was successful in Japan, but outside the country, the film was a critical and financial failure at the time of its release. Audiences and critics largely felt that it did not live up to Teshigahara's earlier film The Woman in the Dunes. The film review website Rotten Tomatoes lists the movie as having a 100% rating (based on 7 reviews).