Netflixed: Woman in the Dunes

“Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara (Pitfall / Woman In The Dunes / The Face Of Another) (Criterion Collection)” (Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Don’t believe I’ve ever seen this film, though do remember discussing it in a film class, possibly with clips. Sounds odd and intriguing.

Hiroshi Teshigahara’s award-winning drama centers on a bug expert (Eiji Okada) conducting research who’s captured by locals. Held captive in a sandpit with a young widow, he struggles with his imprisonment — and his growing attraction to the woman (Kyôko Kishida). Based on Kobo Abe’s novel, the provocatively erotic allegorical film earned the Cannes Special Jury Prize and two Oscar nominations.

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Ebert liked the film enough to add it to his Great Movies database:

More than almost any other film I can think of, “Woman in the Dunes” uses visuals to create a tangible texture–of sand, of skin, of water seeping into sand and changing its nature. It is not so much that the woman is seductive as that you sense, as you look at her, exactly how it would feel to touch her skin. The film’s sexuality is part of its overall reality: In this pit, life is reduced to work, sleep, food and sex, and when the woman wishes for a radio, “so we could keep up with the news,” she only underlines how meaningless that would be.

The screenplay is by Kobo Abe, based on his own novel, and it reveals the enormity of the situation slowly and deliberately–not rushing to announce the man’s dilemma, but revealing it in little hints and insights, while establishing the daily rhythm of life in the dunes. The pit-dwellers are serviced by villagers from above, who use pulleys to lower water and supplies, and haul up the sand. It is never clear whether the woman willingly descended into her pit or was placed there by the village; certainly she has accepted her fate, and would not escape if she could. She participates in the capture of the man because she must: Alone, she cannot shovel enough sand to stay ahead of the drifts, and her survival–her food and water–depend on her work. Besides, her husband and daughter were buried in a sandstorm, she tells the man, and “the bones are buried here.” So they are both captives–one accepting fate, the other trying to escape it.

The man tries everything he can to climb from the pit, and there is one shot, a wall of sand raining down, that is so smooth and sudden the heart leaps. As a naturalist, he grows interested in his situation, in the birds and insects that are visitors. He devises a trap to catch a crow, and catches no crows, but does discover by accident how to extract water from the sand, and this discovery may be the one tangible, useful, unchallenged accomplishment of his life. Everything else, as a narrative voice (his?) tells us, is contracts, licenses, deeds, ID cards– “paperwork to reassure one another.”

[Click to continue reading Woman in the Dunes :: :: Great Movies]

2 thoughts on “Netflixed: Woman in the Dunes

  1. Karlo says:

    I loved these films. In fact, I’ve probably watched The Face of Another on three different occasions. Kobe Abe’s books are also good, although they’re sometimes a hard slog and convey an even more gritty reality than the movies. I’ve read The Torn Map, The Face of Another, and The Boxman. I must confess that I the Boxman lost me. Pitfall’s actually a good leftist piece about exploitation.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to look for these other films too. Are there more than one translation of Kobe Abe? I can’t say I’m very familiar with his work, but seems worth exploring.

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