Hiroshi Teshigahara's powerful masterpiece follows an amateur biologist who escapes the bustle of the city by studying beetles in remote sand dunes. After missing the last bus, he accepts a villager's offer to spend ... more »the night in a widow's shack at the bottom of a deep sand pit. In the morning he finds he is trapped. At first enraged, the man's hatred for the woman soon turns to searing, erotic lust. In Japanese with English subtitles.« less
"When I first saw this movie a number of years ago it made a tremendous impression. I had walked in "cold" into an LA art theatre and had no idea what I was watching and what to expect. But I soon found myself mesmerized as if under the spell of the Ancient Mariner - it still retains some of this power today.The plot of this movie has been fairly well summarized by several reviewers. For completeness, I give a thumbnail sketch: A youngish man for the city (Tokyo) goes to a desolate part of the countryside to collect insects (his hobby). He overstays, and misses the last bus back. The local villagers decide to put him up with "Granny" - who turns out to be thirtyish, not-unattractive woman, who ominously lives at the bottom of a sand pit. The next morning the man finds the ladder removed, and himself trapped in the sand pit. Much of the movie portrays his half-hearted attempts to escape, and his tempestuous relationship with his woman "jailor." Near the end of the movie he is given a clear and easy chance to escape, but decides to "postpone" his departure.This film is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by the Japanese writer, Kobo Abe. A major and fascinating writer, Abe shares stylistic affinities with Dostoyevsky and (especially) Camus. Alienation and loss of identity are prominent Abe motifs (as they are with Camus). The movie was made in Japan; so unlike many Hollywood films, it is fairly faithful to the novel. For stylistic reasons, it was made in black and white: shadows are an essential element in the mood.An extreme reductionist view of the film/novel might go something like this: The movie explores the eternal dance by which man and woman accommodate themselves to each other. The woman's need for security, stability, and social respectability often conflict with the man's need for freedom, new experiences, and impractical dreams. Gradually, through a largely unconscious process, the two make those small adjustments which allow for a log-term - if somewhat uneasy - alliance. A secondary theme is the corrosive effects of time. Or more accurately, the effects of the second law of thermodynamics/entropy: things not constantly repaired, whether house or relationship, inevitably deteriorate. Time/entropy is represented in the film by the unceasing flow of sand. Light and shadows - prominent throughout the film - symbolize the dualities of life.It is easy to make a case that the movie has a misogynistic tone. Certainly the image of woman as an ant-lion lurking at the bottom a sand pit is not the most flattering. But upon further analysis this view must be rejected. The reason the protagonist does not return to his former life (once given the chance) is simply that his former life lacked emotional meaning. The struggle with the woman at the bottom of the sand pit, although grim in certain respects, reconnects him with those parts of himself which his overly civilized and sterile city life had disconnected."
An Extraordinary Film!
Peter S. Lunde | 11/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes came to me at a time 30 years ago when I was watching 3-4 foreign films every week for about a year. For me, it remains a powerful film that has stayed cemented in my mind all these years. Universal and contemporary, it spellbinds the viewer with lyrical, sensuous b&w imagery. The story is allegorical. It focuses on what really binds a man and a woman together: lust and love and purpose. The trapped man's intellectual pursuits change from collecting dead insects to collecting life-saving water. Everything the man needs to be happy and satisfied ultimately becomes clear to him. He "frees" himself from the anomie and sterility of modern life by learning to live a purposeful existence based on emotional and physical needs. He no longer wants to escape his existence in the sand, for the sand prison, and all that it has to offer, frees him forever."
Sand Never Rests
Glenn A. Buttkus | Sumner, WA USA | 09/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In Japan,this film is titled SUNA NO ONNA. In 1964, the movie won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes, and it was nominated for two Oscars. It was directed by the multi-talented Hiroshi Teshigahara, who as well as a film director, was a poet, calligrapher, a wood block artist, had worked with ceramics, and had directed opera. It was based on a novel by Kobe Abe. The themes prevelant in the film leap from Zen parable to existential horror and Noh drama. It is reminiscent of stories by Franz Kafka, like METAMORPHOSIS.
The cinematographer was Hiroshi Segawa, and he played with light and shadow like a painter, finding a perfectly balanced blend between Abe's prose and Teshigahara's vision. He helped Sand become the third major character in the film, giving it personality, creating a Dali-esque canvas. He photographed sand as if it were a breathing beast, with wind rippling over the white dunes spreading the sand like waves of water, flapping the edges like it was moving silk. And he utilized a lot of extreme close-ups of skin pores choked with grains of sand, and sweaty strands of hair with sand granules clinging to them.
Toru Takemitsu did the music. The score was minimalist, yet powerful and staccato, piercing through us with flute, drum, and strings. The music only materialized when it was needed and necessary. Most of the film was not underscored with music. We heard breathing, moaning, rolling waves, shoveling, the crackling of fire, the bubbling of water, soap on skin, and the terrible creaking of old wood as that house swayed beneath the steady onslaught of the sand.
An essay written by Albert Camlus on the Myth of Sisyphus influenced the plot; that if a person is forced to exercise their entire being toward nothing, accomplishing nothing, mired in repetition, the human spirit is still not vanquishable. It will find joy in the task. Camus wrote,"happiness and the absurd are twin sons of the same earth; inseparable." Sisyphus achieved an emotional victory after he learned to love the rock he was pushing repeatedly up the mountainside. Our protagonists achieved a kind of emotional victory when their labor became sacred and necessary.
Eiji Okada played Niki Jumpei, a stranger wandering the dunes searching for insects; especially one rare beetle. Missing the last bus back to Tokyo, he approached some villagers and requested local accommodations. They agreed, and let him stay the night in a house at the bottom of one of their great sand pits. This was a village that the sand had attempted to devour, comprised of a honeycomb of pits dotted across the shoreline, mostly devoured by the shifting sands; only the occasional rooftop protruding out of the darkness of the many pits.
His hostess, played by Kyoko Kishida, was a thirty-something woman, widowed by the sand, and determined to stay the course, to remain in her domicle. She had to shovel the windblown sand constantly to deny the elements the chance to bury her alive. The following morning the man finds that the rope ladder he descended on was missing. He was trapped. Obviously the villagers were in on the conspiracy. Trapped there he lost his freedom, but in its place he found purpose, and with purpose he found meaning, and with meaning he found a strange joy; something he had never known.
This is a stunning film, perfectly in balance; blending poetry, literature, calligraphy, cinematography, and music. It is what all good movies aspire to be-- it is art. It a true classic, almost without flaw. I saw this film three decades ago, and as a twenty-something youth, during my University days, I was not fully appreciative of the subtleties within the piece. It is a timeless parable of the human condition, a film that begs for more than one viewing. The photography haunted me, and the eroticism, and the existential terror stayed with me. It made me hunger to read the novel."
Haunting, erotic, mystical, superb film!
Peter S. Lunde | 02/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You have to watch "Woman in the Dunes" several times to even begin to catch all the symbolism in this amazing film. Just consider, for example, the begining of the film...all those official stamps for "identification" followed by the anonymous shifting sands and the strident chaos depicted in the musical score by Toru Takemitsu. Indeed the film, based on the famous Kobo Abe novel of the same name, is all about our identities. A business executive hunting for bugs in the midst of sand dunes...as if to say, looking for meaning in a vast desert. I will not spoil the story for you...but you will plunge from the modern world of government forms with its anonymous shifting sands into the depths of a rural, almost primitive world where human beings depend on each other for survival...i.e. to bail out that sand. This film has beautiful black and white photography, wonderful acting and some of the most erotic scenes in cinema accompanied by a haunting sound track. The images will remain with you long after seeing it."
Which version to get?
S. Pearson | Halifax | 08/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Well, I've read the reviews here and couldn't do any better. Also, I suggest you read Roger Ebert's take on this wonderful film. A must see for fans of Japanese cinema and for anyone who appreciates cinema as an art-form and not just entertainment.
I own both the Milestone release and the Asmik release (got via Amazon.co.jp). I agree with [...] - the transfer and the director's cut/extras found on the Japanese Asmik version are far superior than Milestone's (and far cheaper). Try to find the Japanese version if you can. I'd be selling my Milestone version *to get rid of it* but I let my sister have it. Four and 1/2 stars."