Director Kei Ishikawa’s dramatic thriller “A Man (ある男)” explores the value of self and identity. [Santa Barbara International Film Festival]

Who are you? Stop for a moment. Read not a line further, and think on that. Are you one thing or are you many? Are you your thoughts and fears? Your anxieties or successes? Your actions? Are you your present or your past? These are the questions that director Kei Ishikawa (Listen to the Universe) explores in their adaptation of Keiichiro Hirano’s 2018 novel A Man, a slow dramatic thriller in which identity is the center of a series of seemingly disconnected mysteries and whose answer will shake the characters to their core. One wouldn’t expect a film with a simple premise to lend itself to such philosophic depth and, yet, A Man is structured in such a way that audiences can’t help but lean in as soon as the mystery begins, attached first by the development of the characters and then properly hooked by the time the shoe drops. Most satisfactorily, the “truth” doesn’t matter so much as what is revealed within the characters themselves by journeys end.


L-R: Masataka Kubota as Daisuke and Sakura Ando as Rie in A MAN. Photo courtesy of The Match Factory.

While grieving the loss of her father, divorcee Rie (Sakura Ando) meets the shy and quiet Daisuke Taniguchi (Masataka Kubota). The two find comfort in one another, fall in love, and marry. Not only does Daisuke become the father to her oldest son Yuto (Manato Sakamot), but the two conceive a daughter. Nearly four years since their relationship began, it ends tragically when Daisuke is killed during a workplace accident. Rie has already gone through so much and yet things grow worse still when she discovers that the man she loved, whom she made a life with, is not whom she thought him to be. In order to find out the truth, Rie rehires lawyer Akira Kido (Satoshi Tsumabuki) to find the truth. What he discovers will cause all involved to reconsider their notions of identity, truth, and love.

The term “truth” is a misnomer. See, objective facts are things like “rock,” “knife,” “water,” or “food.” How something occurs may be explained or supported by objective facts, but each decision along the way, each action, is determined by subjective perception. So when you “speak your truth,” what you’re really doing is speaking your perception of the truth and what you perceive may very well be bullshit. The intersection of your truth and someone else’s is where A Man exists, exploring not just how someone else’s misrepresentation of themselves can impact others, but how even those who think they have a handle on their “truth” can find it in disarray thanks to the carelessness of others. Though the film begins with Rei and the mystery kicks off with the death of Daisuke, the bulk of A Man follows Akira as he seeks out objective facts, not realizing he’s on the path toward subjective perception. A fact that you’d think he’d already know as he’s a Japanese-Korean living in Japan at a time when there’s social unrest regarding Korean immigrants (historically, the countries have had significant conflicts). Through the film, Akira swallows a great deal of frustration as he’s disregarded, disrespected, and otherwise demeaned by relatives, interviewees, and other individuals he engages with. It doesn’t matter how Akira treats others (with incredible care and respect), some people see him as a foreigner building success in a country that may not have enough resources for those who live within it. One might presume that Akira’s part in the film is to play the dogged-investigator, when he’s actually the arbiter of reality, a task that the righteous run away from and the deserved understand.


L-R: Sakura Ando as Rie and Masataka Kubota as Daisuke in A MAN. Photo courtesy of The Match Factory.

This isn’t just an idea that’s explored through Akira’s investigation, it’s done so in the scoring and framing of shots. The film is sparsely scored by Cicada, enabling natural sounds to take prominence, implying a certain level of reality to the strange circumstances that pervade the narrative. This is particularly effective in the scenes where Akira is lead down a corridor to chat with a potential lead. The first time he walks down, the camera is at his back (a frequent shot setup throughout the film, playing into the idea of not being able to tell for sure who we’re seeing even if we think we know), the sound of each foot step echoing and growing louder with each footfall. In a moment like this, the echoing fills the space, denoting a weight and significance, like Akira is about to face an incredible trial. The footfalls start with their volume natural before the sound is manipulated, ratcheting the volume so as to convey Akira’s growing disquiet while increasing the discomfort in the audience. Later, when he returns, the camera leads Akira and the footfalls aren’t the focus; instead, we’re able to take in the look of determination on Akira’s face, as though he’s headed into battle armed with new information and a greater understanding of the facts, even if not as fully equipped as he believes. The change in shots communicate so much as to the difference in how Akira sees himself, the sound or lack thereof only aiding in setting tone and intent.

Through the whole film, the notion of identity is explored and whether or not any of who someone was before they came into your life matters. There have been stories like this before, stories where perception is critical to shaping the intrigue, shifting how one views one character or another from moment to moment, scene to scene. This is true here, as well, with the time spent with Rie and Yuto (specifically as they each grapple with what it means that Daisuke wasn’t who he proclaimed), the story grows more emotional powerful as they roll around with each piece of new information. Rather than utilize large performances, the actors keep them small and grounded, allowing subtext to wallop you while the pair discuss something as simple as whether or not Yuto needs to change his last name (this being the third time he’ll have to change it since birth) and what that says about him. With Yuto being an adolescent, there’s an opportunity for the performance to grow wild, to rend and tear at the scenery in frustration over the situation, yet, by opting to instead turn inward and process the grief of loss through identity, A Man allows the audience, through Yuto, to consider the heavy weight of self-identification through the actions of others.

So what does it all boil down to?


L-R: Sakura Ando as Rie, Masataka Kubota as Daisuke, Miyako Yamaguchi as Hatsue Takemoto in A MAN. Photo courtesy of The Match Factory.

The search for meaning in another person’s actions, the search for truth, is all about understanding that person’s perception. In order to do that, you have to put aside what you think you know, put aside the truth as the facts imply, and give yourself the opportunity to reconcile the two (or more) versions of the person you think you know. Before the film introduces the audience to the characters, there’s a lingering shot of a painting hanging in what sounds like some kind of establishment. That painting is of two figures repeated once, their backs to us, drawn identically and just off one another. We presume connection due to their similarity and proximity, we project onto them all kinds of ideas and, yet, any of them could be true and any could be false. Within A Man is a reminder that who we are changes daily, that who we are is comprised of more than one choice or decision, and that who we are is in our control. We can run from it, we can try to hide or change it, but we are always with us. We just need to be willing to open up so that our truth, our actual truth can be known and acknowledged. Existing like that offers proper peace internally and externally.

Screening during Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023.

For more information, head to either the official Shochiku or The Match Factory A Man (ある男) webpage or the A Man (ある男) website.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Categories: Films To Watch, In Theaters, Recommendation, Reviews

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