Shohei Imamura was one of the directors in focus in the 2007 edition of the Japanese Film Festival, but his vast filmography means that we continue to see some of his masterpieces in this year's edition as well. A Man Vanishes examines the concept of Johatsu, tackling the phenomenon of people missing in Japan over the years. It picks one such person from the list, someone who had seemed to disappear from the face of the earth due to embezzlement from his company, and the filmmakers begin an investigative documentary into the reasons behind and attempt at tracking him down.
The presentation of the documentary runs like an investigative drama predominantly filled with police interrogative type of questioning. The filmmakers take great pains to locate friends and family of Tadashi Oshima, and interviews them on camera – at times needed to mask their eyes to protect identities - to provide us a vast and hopefully objective opinion of the man we get engaged into looking for. This provides an opportunity for Imamura to touch upon themes such as relationships, as well as the general attitudes of people in Oshima's generation. At one point the occult is also pursued as an option to try and obtain answers to the million dollar question as to his current location.
And you may find that the film does get a little long-winded with no end in sight in its discussions and interviews, crafting a story quite unlike how it will be done in today's context, since the tale here come in pieces from the series of interviews, perceptions formed, and the memories of subjects that we know will be tainted inevitably by time. If done today, it'll be more in-your-face and to-the-point (though there's a reason why this was avoided) with a clear narrative guiding hand to point us where it wants us to look. This one spirals a little out of control where the interviewees and subject craft most of the talking points, and as a result we get a potential for a murder-mystery, involving two sisters who seem to be equally involved, and possibly guilty as to the outcome of Oshima's location.
But when the rug gets pulled under our feet through the sudden breaking of walls and the audience being engaged at a different level, we then realize how in effect the film may set out to make us understand how near impossible it is to solve cases of this nature, on how it's mind boggling to know where to begin, nor know whether time invested in investigations will lead to a successful outcome. It has to rely on the faulty memories of people insistent that they're right, and as events unfold show how stalemates are so easily reached when either party fervently believe what they see as experience as the truth, and in so will contradict the accounts of others. On the other hand, the line between reality and fiction, truth and lie gets blurred beyond recognition, so whatever you thought you knew becomes something you don't anymore.
In the last 2 scenes which are quite similar in content, one in a room and the other in an outdoor street location, one will get dizzy following the entire dialogue exchange, because it beats around the bush, never ends, and contains never ending bickering that you'll be exasperated enough to root for someone giving up. Thank goodness that the camera pulls out in time, though still leaving you perplexed over