WOMAN IN THE DUNES
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Eiji Okada, Kyoko Kishida
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2016
ďThe sand can swallow up cities and countries, if it wants to.Ē
Iíve been aware of the director Hiroshi Teshigahara for some time now, but it never occurred to me before now that Iíve never seen one of his pictures. After viewing A Woman in the Dunes, thatís a mistake Iím sure I wonít repeat.
Iíve never quite seen anything like this, and thatís hard to say coming from someone whoís reviewed films for 20 years. Itís far from realistic, yet somehow conveys realism at its heart, and brings a strange humanity to an implausible scenario.
That scenario is easily defined: a man (no name) who studies bugs is invited by local villagers in the desert to spend the night at a home located oddly enough at the bottom of a sand pit with a woman (again, no name). The house is only accessible by ladder, and when he awakes, the ladder is gone.
The woman has a job: she shovels sand. She does it for two reasons: one, to keep the house from being buried, and two, because the villagers sell the sand for construction. And the reason the ladder is gone? Itís the intent that the man should remain with the woman, and join her in her never-ending effort.
Itís part Sisyphean myth, part battle of the sexes, and perhaps the best use of sand as a supporting character this side of Lawrence of Arabia. None of it makes senseÖwhy keep a house at the bottom of a sand pit? Especially if it means a lifetime of digging and digging just to keep it? And how can a film with such a strange premise be so oddlyÖerotic?
I can only attribute the fact that all of this succeeds together to the genius of Teshigahara, Having been a fan of Kurosawa for decades, Iím personally glad to have a taste of his work, and am anxious to see some more soon!
Criterion does an excellent job in bringing the best possible presentation of a once hard-to-find film to Blu-ray. The black and white photography renders with great grace and contrast, and thereís very little aging artifacts to distract.
The uncompressed mono soundtrack is quite good, even though the film is mostly dialogue-oriented. There are strange and sometimes amusing musical cues that seem to play against or even mock the action, which delivers a succinct feel to the viewing.
There is a 2007 video essay on the film by James Quandt, and 4 short films from Teshigaharaís early years, plus a documentary on his collaboration with novelist Kobo Abe, and a trailer.
A Woman in the Dunes defies logic and explanation, but reaches intangible qualities that will haunt you long after the screening is over. Definitely recommended.