Seichi Matsumoto had an unique ability of pushing his characters to extraordinary lengths, their actions appear to come to us from some intangible place, The Face/Kao is a short story from 1959 collected in The Voice - Stories published by Kodansha in 1989 and translated by Adam Kabat.Its made up from the fragmentary diary of Ryokichi Ino an actor for the dramatic group The White Willow Players, the group are facing financial difficulties and the boss has been negotiating a deal with T.Company to use some of their actors in a forth coming film Spring Snow, Ino is chosen and the film goes ahead as planned, the film receives favourable reviews, Ino getting special mention by the critics,the director, Ishii, contacts him again about a bigger role,starring in the company's next film The Red Forest.In his diary, Ino begins to contemplate the success that this will bring him with a slight anxiety,'I already fantasize about the fall that will follow on the heels of my success' and he begins to mention the probability of 'him' seeing my face. Ino's diary/story tells us he has,(through the use of a private detective agency), been checking on the life and background of Teizaburo Ishioka,born in 1922, employed in the Kita Kyushu Steelworks, over the years his circumstances change, he gets a new job,gets married and they have a son. Ino's story goes back again by 9 months, and he's travelling by train with a hostess, (Miyako Yamada), they bump into Ishioka who knows Miyako from the bar that she works at, the two exchange a few words, then Ishioka says goodbye turns away leaving the couple, noticing though Miyako's silent and slightly suspicious companion, smoking and staring out of the window. Ino's diary skips back to the present tense as he looks for the news that the strangulated body of a woman has been found, it's the body of Miyako Yamada. As Matsumoto begins to put the pieces together we learn that the day Ishioka saw Miyako and Ino together was the day Ino had murdered her, and that Ishioka is the only witness that could possibly link the two together, Miyako had become pregnant by Ino and wanted him to marry her and settle down, Ino had come to Tokyo to make it as an actor, the last thing he wanted was to settle down with Miyako, a hostess.
Now on the brink of success, Ino's concerns that if Ishioka recognises his face on from the film he'll be caught out, he decides on luring Ishioka to a remote spot and killing him. He decides to write a letter to Ishioka posing as a relative of Miyako asking for his assistance in tracking down Miyako's murderer.The narrative switches to a statement like narrative from Ishioka, saying that he had received a letter from Miyako's relative, after the initial police investigation he had been questioned by the police about Miyako, he told them that he had seen her on the train with a man he didn't know, the police feel that this man is the murderer, but Ishioka no matter how hard he tries to recall the man he can't remember his face. He shows the letter to the police who become suspicious of the sender,when they realize that the sender knew his address, something which hadn't been released in the media.Ino in the letter asked Ishioka to meet him in Kyoto, hinting that he may have found the killer, but his intention was to lure him to Mount Hiei and murder him.The police advise Ishioka to go to Kyoto to meet the sender, but to be accompanied by two police officers.Ino goes over and over his plan. In Ishioka's description of the day of the meeting he tells that he and the officers arrive early in Kyoto, they decide to check the sites and then go for some imobo before the meeting at two o'clock, they enter a restaurant and Ishioka's statement ends with 'There was a man there eating by himself...' Returning to Ino's description of the meeting he tells of his arrival at Kyoto, he too is early and decides on imobo for lunch too, sitting at the restaurant he almost lets out a cry when Ishioka walks in but manages to keep himself in check, after a while he comes to the realization that Ishioka doesn't recognise him, filled with the euphoria that he will get away with his crime, he brazenly asks Ishioka for a match to light his cigarette, which he smokes and then leaves the restaurant. The story returns to Ishioka saying how the suspect never turned up for the meeting, but the police believed it was not a hoax, due to the contents of the letter. The Red Desert is released, to good reviews and Ishioka hearing the good reviews decides to see it for himself, the character in the film is running away, he takes the train, staring out of the window, he lights a cigarette, the realization hits Ishioka, who runs out of the theatre to the nearest police station.
Seicho Matsumoto can be seen briefly in this trailer for the film adaption of his novel Zero Focus from 1961,the film was remade recently,Zero Focus