Irish Film Institute -Woman of the Dunes

Woman of the Dunes

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara

Japan| 1964. English subtitles. Black and white. 123 mins.

A highpoint in the wonderful series of ?lms that emerged from Japan during the 1960s, director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s second feature remains a terri?cally gripping thriller, an extremely erotic drama, a work of great visual inventiveness and beauty, and a compelling metaphorical account of the human condition. When a teacher who has been collecting insect specimens on a remote stretch of the coast misses his bus home, locals offer him lodging in a cabin in the dunes inhabited by a young widow. Ignoring the fact that her home is at the bottom of a sandpit reached by a rope ladder, he accepts her hospitality without realising he’s the victim of a cruel trick: he’s needed to shovel the sand forever threatening to engulf the cabin.
So begins a taut, tense fable (taken from Kobo Abe’s novel) about complacency, commitment, freedom and the will to survive, its allegorical elements ?rmly grounded in an un?inching study of a relationship that is at once wholly convincing and highly charged. Visually, the ?lm is as extraordinary as you might expect from a former painter whose favoured style had been surrealism; the high-contrast black and white compositions create unfamiliar, almost abstract patterns, confound conventional notions of scale by alternating between extreme close-up and long-shot, and focus in eloquent detail on physical texture—that of sand, especially, as it pours from the dunes down the pit, into the house, onto naked, sensitive ?esh. A great elemental cautionary tale in the glorious tradition of ?lms like Greed, The Wind, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it’s also a masterpiece.

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