AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Woman in the Dunes (also known as Woman of the Dunes)--the Japanese translation being Suna No Onna (Hiroshi Teshighara, 1964)--is a unique, unforgettable and enigmatic film. On the surface, Woman in the Dunes appears to be a simple tale; ostensibly a strange adventure that befalls a young entomologist, Niki Junpei (Eiji Okada), when he becomes entrapped in a sand pit while hunting for insects in a barren and isolated sand dune. Yet, Woman in the Dunes can also be viewed as an allegorical film, open to interpretation in a number of different ways: as a story that draws parallels between Niki's entrapment in the sand pit and his fascination with collecting and keeping insects; as a strange and unsettling love story; as a commentary on whether or not man lives to work, or works to live; as the conflict between the ancient traditions of rural Japanese society and modern westernized Japan; as a profound search for meaning and contentment in modern westernized society.
As mentioned above, Woman in the Dunes centres on entomologist Niki Junpei. The film opens with Niki collecting insects on a desolate stretch of beach. After falling asleep in the dunes, Niki misses the last bus back to the city. Awaking to find local villagers standing in front of him, Niki asks them where he can spend the night. The villagers lead Niki to a sand pit, inviting him to climb (]own a rope ladder into the murky depths. At the bottom of this sand pit lives a woman (Kyoko Kishida), in a ramshackle wooden house, who allows the stranger to stay the night. For reasons that remain a mystery, it transpires that the woman (we never learn her name) must daily shovel a sea of encroaching sand, not only for her own survival, but also to ensure the existence of the nearby village. In the morning Niki wanders outside the house to find the ladder gone. Now a prisoner of the sand pit, he has been brought to the woman of the dunes as an intended mate. Initially perplexed and then angered, Niki makes frantic and unsuccessful efforts to escape from the pit. However, as the film progresses, Niki undergoes a remarkable character transformation and gradually comes to accept his new life, while simultaneously developing a curious attraction to the woman in the pit. In an ironic and perverse twist, when finally provided with the opportunity to escape, Niki chooses to remain in the pit.
Woman in the Dunes was adapted by director Hiroshi Teshigahara from the best-selling novel of the same name by Japanese existential writer Kobo Abe (winner of the 1960 Yomiuri Literature Award). (1) Abe is also credited with writing the screenplay for Woman in the Dunes. In addition, it is worth noting that, at the time of its release, the film drew favourable comparisons to Abe's novel. As one critic commented at the time:
Abe's prose (at least in the English provided) does not equal Teshigahara's eye, and the novelist's structural sense--of sentence, paragraph, chapter--is inferior to the director's visual structures, his feeling for rhythm and montage. (2)
Director Hiroshi Teshigahara's second feature, Woman in the Dunes was made independently for the very mod est sum (even for mid-1960s standards) of only $100,000. The film also brought Hiroshi Teshigahara his first international recognition, being awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1964 Cannes International Film Festival. Further recognition came …