Friday, 3 March 2017

I've Just Seen: Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna) (1964)

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara

Few stories are so simple, yet so strange as Teshigahara's film. It follows a schoolteacher who finds himself living in a house at the bottom of a sand dune valley with a woman whose job is to keep her house safe from the encroaching sand. From this intriguing and Sisyphusian scenario, we get a fable that is lyrical and surprisingly sensual.

The sand of the dunes is a main character in the film. There are close-ups shots of granules of sand tumbling over each other, this silent presence slowly inching closer. It also gets everywhere, even when the characters lie down inside the house. It informs every act the couple do each day, and even aids in consummating their relationship. The black and white cinematography strips the sand of its yellow-white colour, making it feel even more dry, and almost like Niki and The Woman are on another planet. When water does appear, its dark stain stands out in this pale grey landscape.

It is hard to say a great deal about the film because its plot largely occurs in the heart of its main character Niki, whose desire to escape this strange gaol changes as he and The Woman start a sexual relationship, and his own ingenuity is rewarded.

The quietness of the camera's approach to its subject reminded me of Ozu's work, but really,  Teshigahara's film is very singular. I didn't know what to think of it for the first few minutes, but by the end, the film had drawn me into its world of sand, sex, and seclusion. Further proof, as if it were needed, of the brilliance of Japanese cinema.


  1. I started to read your synopsis but then I remembered that the DVR is set up to record this off TCM in a few hours and I'll probably watch it within a few days. So I'll read it later and comment after I've seen it. I've been wanting to see it for YEARS!

    1. Hope you like it as much as I did!

    2. The chances that I'll like it are pretty high. I've seen bunches of Japanese movies from the late 1950s and early 1960s - so much Kurosawa, some Ozu, Hara-kiri, Onibaba - and I love pretty much all of them.

      The only film I've seen by this director is the documentary about Gaudi. It's great!

    3. For some reason I thought there was a supernatural component to this, like a story from the film Kwaidan. But, no, just a charming tale of rural life in Japan.

      All joking aside, yeah, another great Japanese movie from the late 1950s, early 1960s. I'm a sucker for these movie, whether it's High and Low or Godzilla vs. Mothra!