Woman In The Dunes is both a film and a novel. The latter is written by Kobo Abe who also wrote the script for the film. The film is directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and won the Cannes Special Jury Prize back in ’64 and even got nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars. The Cannes award I can understand. The Oscar nom, I don’t. I also didn’t think I’d like this film but I do.

It’s a bleak black and white about an entomologist who goes out looking for bugs in a remote area. When he’s told the last bus has left, he accepts the offer of accommodation from the local villagers. They lower him with a rope down to a curious house, surrounded by steep dunes. There, he’s taken care of by a woman who cooks him dinner. He then finds her shovelling sand outside, which the villagers above haul away on the rope pulley. He doesn’t think too much about it and wanders off to sleep. In the morning though, he wakes to find her body completely naked before him and the rope pulley gone.

It’s a really strange, Kafkaesque tale. Altogether erotic, haunting and philosophical. The imagery in particular, I think, is a highlight. Shifting sand dunes with lines and lines and lines moving and looking like vast oceans, relentless and interminable; a metaphor for life itself. If I have one complaint, it is that the copy I have is super dark. So much so that at times, I’m just simply watching pitch black, which is a shame.

I find it interesting how the whole story is setup. Man looking for some form of escapism but also achievement/meaning in life ends up trapped in a pit, within which he toils away, trying to escape until suddenly, 2 important events change his opinion. Instead of wallowing in the pit, he decides to make the most of it. This change of perspective is so aptly mirrored in the movements of the sand.

I also find the dynamic between the two main characters intriguing. The male and female are intertwined and never quite at ease with each other but always erotically attached. They fight and yearn for different things but somehow manage to find a compromise of sorts in the end.

Toru Takemitsu’s score also makes it super dramatic, what with the sudden, harsh chords and all. This is a film that is perhaps illogical but it’s really just one tremendous allegory envisioned in the most profound of ways.

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