A Man Vanishes Review
In 1965 Shohei Imamura set out to make a documentary about Tadashi Oshima, a man who had gone missing, dropped out of the lives of everyone he knew, left no word on where he had gone, and simply vanished. What drove him to do this? Could he have actually been murdered? What do his friends and family really know about what happened to him? All these questions and more come to the surface as Imamura slowly peels back the layers of his life and uncovers new information. Significantly though, none of these questions are ever actually answered.
Furthermore, the veracity of what we are seeing on screen is always in question. This isn’t strictly a documentary, this is obvious from the beginning, but there do appear to be facts behind and within the film but these are constantly mixed with liberal additions of fiction and fabrication.
Throughout the first half of the film we are introduced to everyone in Oshima’s life, the details of his and their lives slowly uncovered through interviews. The interviews focus mainly on relatively mundane details and despite the cumulative result being somewhat effective in building a picture this part of the film does drag considerably. Also, as one is very quickly more than aware that all may not be as it seems there is certainly an issue inherent in telling an audience a series of not particularly interesting facts over the course of an hour that are almost certainly not facts. It’s hard to invest too much in what is being said when you are constantly wondering if the some of what you are being told is simply a lie.
The film picks up pace and comes alive somewhat in the second half as Oshima’s girlfriend takes centre stage and the fabrication, the defining characteristic of this film, becomes more and more apparent. The film also has a wonderful ending in which tension builds and builds during a heated argument until Imamura pulls a wonderful cinematic trick and events spin off towards a reasonably logical conclusion.
The film was co-produced by the Art Theatre Guild (the first film that they funded) but released by the major studio Nikkatsu in 1967. The original intention was to investigate the disappearance of 26 men (or 24 – depending on the source) and possibly to even turn this into a multi-part television series. Given this wider scope it is easy to see how this could have built into a rather fascinating project. As it stands though A Man Vanishes is an oddity, an interesting experiment built on a fascinating idea but it is a conceptual work that is far more interesting to consider or discuss with others than it is to watch.