[Movie] Woman in the Dunes (1964)

  • Title: 砂の女 (Suna no Onna, “Sand woman”)
  • Directed by: Hiroshi Teshigahara
  • Cast: Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida
  • Based on:  The Woman in the Dunes (novel) by Kōbō Abe (1962)

Niki Jumpei: The certificates we use to make certain of one another: contracts, licenses, ID cards, permits, deeds, certifications, registrations, carry permits, union cards, testimonials, bills, IOUs, temporary permits, letters of consent, income statements, certificates of custody, even proof of pedigree. Is that all of them? Have I forgotten any? Men and women are slaves to their fear of being cheated. In turn they dream up new certificates to prove their innocence. No one can say where it will end. They seem endless.

from the movie

Woman in the Dunes” is the rare masterpiece you must see. Niki Jumpei, an entomologist – who studies insects – and school teacher, was trapped in a remote local village. He was forced to live with a woman in a house at the bottom of the sandpit and dig sand every night.

It is magical to see how each scene is beautifully shot. Sand grains are running like water. Insects, human bodies, sand grains in super-large close-ups overwhelmed your senses. I have never seen a film whose black and white images are the level of such excellence to inspire great awe.

Niki Jumpei: This is futile. If it wanted to, the sand could swallow up cities and even entire countries. Did you know that? A Roman town called Sabrata and the one in “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” both completely buried under particles an eighth of a millimeter wide. You can’t fight it! It’s hopeless!

from the movie

Apart from the directing and magic of camera works, the film recaptures the existential question of a Sisyphus myth – a life with the repeated task. Niki Jumpei is forced to do the seemingly meaningless task of digging sand from a sandpit again and again like a slave. He repeatedly shouts he is not a dog and tries to escape from imprisonment.  

Woman: There’s nothing for me to do on the outside.

Niki Jumpei: You could walk around.

Woman: Walk around?

Niki Jumpei: Yes! It’s great to walk around freely!

Woman: Isn’t it exhausting, just walking around aimlessly?

from the movie

The last part of the movie is about exploring the meaning of life. It is not uncommon to see people are complaining about their monotonous and aimless life. Digging sand for food is, in a sense, how everyone is living nowadays. A woman in a sandpit wants to have a radio, which can be the only connection to our world. Do we even have a device to look at the outside of the boundary of lives?

The movie is poetic and hypnotic. A rare gem of the mastery images and sound. Highly recommended!

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