Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida, Hiroko Itô, Kôji Mitsui,
Suna no onna is a movie starring Eiji Okada, Ky?ko Kishida, and Hiroko It?. An entomologist on vacation is trapped by local villagers into living with a woman whose life task is shoveling sand for them.
  • 8.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Kôbô Abe, Eiko Yoshida, Writer:
  • Hiroshi Teshigahara, Director:
  • Kiichi Ichikawa, Tadashi Ôno, Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

Spellbinding and creepy

I'd wanted to see this movie for years, and finally got around to it, on DVD. What a treat! I was glad to discover that the erotic element, though important, is not the predominant draw here; typically, some references to the film make it sound as though it were some forbidden erotic romp, or full of perverse sexuality. Instead I found myself wrapped up in a creepy suspense-thriller sci-fi-fantasy carried off with wit, style, and extraordinarily interesting photography (including one scene that, at least on my set, was completely black for a couple of minutes).

I voted "nine" for this wonderful film, in part because it left me with a lot to think about, in part just for how well it was made. The music by Toru Takemitsu is absolutely perfect for the task, too.

This is just about my favorite kind of film: one that raises important questions about human life, but not at the expense of entertainment. It's as close as I'll probably ever come to having my cake and eating it, too.

Update, January 2007: I finally obtained my own DVD of this film, one with much higher quality photographic reproduction. I now marvel even more at the extraordinarily creative photography. Be sure, if you view this on DVD, not to boost your set's brightness: I can assure you the film is very, very dark on purpose. If possible, see it on a high-definition monitor. Today, I'd vote "ten."

9 / 10

Haunting Parable of Survival Among the Rational and the Primitive Amid Enveloping Sand Dunes

Like Robert Bresson's "Au Hasard Balthazar", Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 existential allegory can be a challenge to sit through if you are not prepared to be swept away by its elliptical profundities. Written for the screen by Kobo Abe based on his 1962 novel, the surreal, highly symbolic story focuses on an amateur entomologist on what he thinks is a day trip from Tokyo to a seaside area with vast and immense sand dunes. As he looks for a particular beetle that he thinks will bring him fame within scientific circles, he loses track of time and misses the last bus back to the city. Local villagers come upon him and take him to a woman who can provide overnight lodging. As it turns out, she lives in the bottom of a sand pit reachable only by a rope ladder. With the ladder gone the next morning, it dawns on him that he is being held captive by the villagers.

From this revelation, Teshigahara and Abe focus on how the man deals with the situation and his evolving feelings toward the woman. In order to survive, she reveals that she shovels sand all night for the local construction company in exchange for weekly rations that are dropped into the pit by a pulley. Meanwhile, the sand takes a life of its own as it encroaches upon their existence in ways most unexpected. Already well known from Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959) and starring opposite Marlon Brando in 1963's "The Ugly American", Eiji Okada dominates every scene of the movie as the emotionally volatile entomologist evolving from sexist entitlement to humiliating desperation to serene resignation. As a representation of supposedly civilized rational thought amid the primitive surroundings, it's a masterful if sometimes overripe turn where only the sand threatens to upstage him.

As the woman, the offbeat-looking Ky?ko Kishida initially seems to be playing Friday to Okada's Robinson Crusoe, but her character starts to reveal layers that startle and fill in necessary plot details. Their relationship becomes highly charged with several scenes that move mercurially between violent and erotic, the capper being a harrowing, Lord of the Flies-type of public act in front of the villagers. Hiroshi Segawa's black-and-white cinematography is nothing short of amazing with memorable vivid images such as the abstract patterns of the dunes, the skin textures flecked with sand granules, and the off-kilter shot compositions that amplify the sheer oddness of the circumstance. The film's overall unnerving tone often makes it feel like an extended episode of a "Twilight Zone", and Toru Takemitsu's unsettling music adds to the eerie atmosphere.

Made for less than $100K, Teshigahara's film was such an art-house hit that he received an unexpected Oscar nomination for Best Director alongside the mainstream likes of Robert Wise ("The Sound of Music"), David Lean ("Doctor Zhivago") and William Wyler ("The Collector"). Currently available only as part of a box set from the Criterion Collection, "Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara", the 2007 DVD contains the full 148-minute director's cut (twenty minutes were cut when initially released for international audiences) and a helpful video essay by film historian James Quandt. Be forewarned that the film will feel overlong for the uninitiated, especially since most of the action takes place between two people in a sand pit, but this is a worthwhile cinematic achievement by any stretch of the imagination.

10 / 10

A brilliant tale of the changing Japan

I get more and more impressed with the classics of Japanese cinema and this is def a highlight. Mesmerizing and artsy it portrays a etymologist and 'the woman of the dunes' trapped in sand. The trap itself obviously symbolizes the trap a certain desert beetle digs to lie in the midst of it waiting for prey which cannot help but sliding into it. Its the same for him, he cant climb the sand walls, the more he struggles the more the sand runs a little like the woman who in fear of the outside continues her sisyfosan existence.

The psychology between the two is excellently depicted. The tension is intensified trough images of sweaty skin and running sand. The cinematographer is a master in filming this. Lots of black. Editing also is sharp and very well done. Sound is minimal and fits the images' bleak and deserted dunes.

Much can be said about this movie, it is one for repeated viewings for sure.

10 / 10

Best film analysis of existentionalism.

Harsh and beautiful analysis of existentionalism. All the Sartrean trappings along with an element of Camus are presented in this film better than any other I know. The realization that life is absurd leads the main character to venture towards trying to make meaning out of what is essentially meaninglessness. The intersubjective relationship between man and woman is examined both erotically and violently while the villagers play the crucial role of the everpresent Other. Disturbing ending only underlies the overpowering presence of the sand dunes. The sand being the strongest metaphor in the film, illustrating the belief that life is nothing but a giant and endless egg-timer flowing sand down upon us. Highly recommended.

10 / 10

Profound without being pretentious

This classic film is one of the few to still live up to the name of "perfect film". Everything in the film is perfectly controlled and at the same time so natural.

The story involves an amateur entomologist captured in a giant sand pit somewhere on the coast of a small Japanese island. He tries to escape but a mysterious woman and some nasty villagers keep pulling him back in.

Despite being made in the early sixties this film still packs a dose of eroticism that most contemporary filmmakers pray to achieve. The black and white cinematography is absolutely haunting (watch out for poor video copies which are way too dark, there is a new DVD out which shows what the original print intended)

This is about as close as you can get to a perfect film. There is nothing that could ever be improved upon.