Would there not exist between modern individuals a fundamentally interchangeable character, capable of returning any fixed identity to the status of pure fiction? It is on this diffuse anxiety that A Man is based, the fourth feature film, and first to be released in France, by Kei Ishikawa, Japanese filmmaker born in 1977, trained at the National Film School of Lodz, in Poland. A knotty and surprisingly placid film, adapted from a novel of the same name by Keiichiro Hirano, writer of the same generation, Yomiuri Prize 2018 (the Japanese Goncourt) and not translated into French.
In the distant prefecture of Miyazaki, at the southern tip of the Archipelago, a remarried woman (Sakura Ando), manager of a stationery factory, discovers the death of her lumberjack husband (Masataka Kubota), whom she met five years previously in a moment of distress, that he was living under an assumed identity. The stranger had, in fact, usurped the civil status of a young spa heir, who has since gone missing, which raises suspicion of a possible motive for murder. The widow tasks her lawyer, Akira Kido (Satoshi Tsumabuki), with leading the investigation and probing the abyss left by her husband. A Man , according to the English title, is an indefinite “man”, oscillating between someone and anyone.
In a country where identities are as fixed as Japan, the unoccupied place left by the unknown, planted like a big question mark, comes to destabilize the entire social body, here represented by the entire gallery of characters. Starting with the lawyer who, taking the reins of the story, finds himself constantly brought back to his Korean origins (although he is already third generation), throughout an investigation wrapping around him by flash -successive backs.
A game of ellipses
But also the grieving widow, convinced of having loved someone and not just an imposter, and the disoriented toddlers left behind by the anonymous woodcutter: a family no longer knowing which surname to choose. What Kido gradually discovers is the hollowness of identity, while the tutelary shadow of René Magritte’s Forbidden Reproduction (1937) hangs over the film: a painting where the same silhouette is reflected twice from behind through a mirror, a strange mirage which obliterates his face. The hidden side of the individual remains forever unknowable.
To film this interior investigation, Ishikawa chooses a form that is not baroque and exploded as one might expect, but on the contrary contained, without effusion, almost “stifled”. The expression is done hollowly, through a play of ellipses, flashbacks, invisible articulations, like the discreet work of an ant. By dint of hiding behind its subject, refusing the slightest formal prominence, the staging exposes itself to a certain flatness, and the story is not exactly thrilling, far from it.
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