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Suna no Onna

Woman in the Dunes

Japan 1964
produced by
Kiichi Ichikawa, Tadashi Oono for Teshigahara Productions, Toho
directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
starring Eiji Okada, Kyoko Kishida, Hiroko Ito, Koji Mitsui, Sen Yano, Kinzo Sekiguchi, Kiyohiko Ichiba, Hiroyuki Nishimoto, Tamutsu Tamura
screenplay by Kobo Abe, based on his novel, music by Toru Takemitsu

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Niki (Eiji Okada) is a hobby entomologist who uis paying a visit to some village in the dunes to look for a rare specimen of sandbug ... and when he realizes it's to late to return home that day, he gladly accepts the hospitality of a woman (Kyoko Kishida) who has her house in a pit in the sand amidst the dunes - thus there's sand everywhere in her house and she constantly has to dig so her house won't be overrun by the dunes. At first, Niki thinks this is rather amusing and naive, but the next day he realizes there is no way out of the pit for him and the villagers and the woman refuse to help him out because they actually all lured him into the pit in the first place to be a supplemental workforce and a consort for the woman.

From now on, Niki makes numerous attempts to make an escape - one of the attempts ends in quicksand - or to force the villagers to set him free - like when he ties the woman up and refuses to work himself - but all to no avail, as he is closely guarded by the villagers and they are able to turn off his water supply ...

As time passes and the rescue team Niki has hoped for never comes, he nmore and more accepts his fate and even becomes the woman's lover, only he would love to one day see the sea again - but even this wish is declined him by the villagers, who would give in only if he shags the woman before their very eyes, thereby only adding insult to injury.

Eventually, the woman gets pregnant, but when complications ariseshe is taken from her hut in the pit, probably never to return and leavving Niki all alone. To his amazement though, when she is carried away, the villagers leave behind a hanging ladder for Niki to get out of his pit - which he does, and he walks to the sea, which is only a few yards away ... but ultimately he returns to his hut at the bottom of the pit and continues working on his experiments to distill water out of the sand - which demonstrates the extent to which Niki has come to terms with his fate.

 

The novel by Kobo Abe (who also wrote the screenplay) this film is based on is a masterpiece of modern literature, maybe most closely resembling the works of Franz Kafka. The film that Hiroshi Teshigahara - who did work with Kobo Abe repeatedly - made out of the book is a masterpiece in its own right, a deliberately slow-moving yet suspenseful and claustrophobic piece of cinema that defies genre specifications, instead tells its story in its very own cinematic language consisting of many close ups of sand running down the dunes, coming through every crack, and naked skin being covered in either sweat or sand, turning this film into a weird yet sensual experience.

A must-see.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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special appearances by
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directed by
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written by
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produced by
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Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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