WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964) – The Dungeon Photo Review!

I feel like I should have been aware of Woman in the Dunes. It has received significant acclaim, winning the special jury prize at Cannes. It was also nominated for two academy awards for best foreign language film and best director. Woman in the Dunes is based on the book of the same name by Kôbô Abe. According to the special features on the Criterion DVD the film is quite faithful to its source material. The special features also discuss symbolism in the film. The film is referred to as “avant-garde”. A two and a half hour long avant-garde film full of symbolism. Films that fit this mould can be self-indulgent, long-winded tripe but they can also be an enthralling and hypnotic experience. Woman in the Dunes is one such enthralling experience. While Woman in the Dunes may be full of symbolism, its story is really quite straight-forward. Visually the film is very impressive. Sand invades every nook and cranny of the set pieces. Everything in the woman’s home is designed for life among the sand dunes. Impromptu lids for cooking utensils and various creative coverings are used to protect her possessions and her person from the troublesome sand. The sand is a curse but the woman seems to gleam some comfort from it. Director Hiroshi Techigahara includes intimate close-ups of sand on bare flesh and resting on strands of hair. The countless interesting and unique shots are what made Woman in the Dunes a candidate for a photo review. Like a previous photo review for Blind Beast the vast majority of Woman in the Dunes takes place in a single location. The performances from the two central actors Eiji Okada and Kyôko Kishida are strong. Their on-screen chemistry together is fluid and natural. Woman in the Dunes is not a love story, but the relationship between the two main characters is nonetheless an important element. Woman in the Dunes is a mesmerizing drama with mystery and thriller elements. Despite its deliberate pace and lengthy runtime Woman in the Dunes kept me thoroughly invested. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic! I will be seeking this one out to add to my collection! I should probably apologize for the length of this thing! These photo reviews are getting out of control! I really dug Woman in the Dunes and can’t recommend it enough. Warning!! This photo review does include some minor spoilers.

We begin appropriately, with sand. We are shown a microscopic view of sand, which is than zoomed out until we see a mass of sand.

This is Jumpei Niki school teacher and amateur entomologist. We don’t actually learn this character’s name until the end of the film. I will be referring to him as ‘the teacher’ from now on.

The teacher is exploring the area for a particular variety of insect that lives in the sand.

The teacher takes a rest and when he awakes a villager informs him he missed the last bus into the city. He also offers to find him accommodation.

They lead the teacher to a large hole where a roof is visible below. They inform him that this is where he will spend the night. One of the locals yokels for the woman of the house referring to her as “hag”.

The teacher climbs down a rope ladder to the ground where a ramshackle house stands.

Hey! She’s not a hag at all!

The woman fixes the teacher some food and tea and sets up a place for him to sleep.

The woman puts a scarf and hat on, grabs a shovel and hurries out of the room.

The woman works each night, all night long shovelling sand into pails that are hauled up and later sold. It is also necessary for her survival. All of the sand removed from the previous night’s work is replaced the next day with more. She digs through the night while the teacher sleeps.

The teacher awakes the next morning to the sight of the woman’s naked body covered in a fine dusting of sand. We see him take a drink through wood slats as if he is in prison. Foreshadowing what is to come? He quietly gathers his stuff and leaves.

The teacher scans the area and discovers the rope ladder has disappeared. What the deuce?! Clearly someone or someone(s) is aiming to keep him here.

Angry and determined, the teacher picks up a shovel and attempts to make footholds in the sand wall. It gets him no where and causes a small avalanche.

Walls of sand are just absolute rubbish for climbing!

The teacher realizes he will not be getting out of the hole on his own. He decides to tie up the woman and threaten the men.

The teacher informs the villagers that he has the woman tied up. He climbs onto the lowered net and insists that they pull him up. He really didn’t think this plan out.

Shockingly the teacher’s plan does not work. But at least they throw down some provisions in the form of cigarettes and liquor.

The teacher realizes there is little point in keeping the woman tied up and frees her. He makes her promise not to dig any more sand until he says she can. They will soon find out that the punishment for not digging sand is a real buzz kill.

An avalanche rocks the house and the teacher and the woman end up on the floor.

Afterwards the teacher bathes the woman.

The two passionately bang uglies. I joke, this is actually one seriously sexy scene!

After being deprived of water for an extended period of time the teacher and the woman drink greedily.

The teacher learns an important lesson; you don’t screw with the villagers. And he joins the woman on her daily digging ritual.

The teacher begins to become accustom to life in the sand but escape is still on his mind. He creates a rope while the woman works away at the digging. When she is done her work, the teacher insists she join him for a drink and than bathes him so she will sleep extra soundly.

The teacher’s plan is a success and he manages to get out of the sand hole.

The sun is setting and the teacher does not know the terrain. He manages to get himself in a spot. You will have to watch the film to find out what happens.

The villagers not only locate the teacher but must save him from his precarious position. He is promptly returned to his hole.

The teacher shouts to a villager that he has learned his lesson. He asks if they would let him go to the sea once a day. I won’t try to escape! How can she not be saddened by his desperation to leave?

The villagers discuss and decide they might allow him this request on one condition. The villagers look on wearing masks and various other adornments. Fevered drums beat, but for what? Again, I’ll leave you to watch the film yourself.

The teacher has set bird traps; in which he hoped to catch a bird that he could tie a note to. When he checks his trap he instead discovers water. Clean, drinkable water!

Could the teacher be content here in this home amongst the sand?

Unfortunately, the woman is not well. The villagers must take her away to treat her.

He watches sadly as they take her away.

The End.


Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Hiroshi Teshigahara

Starring: Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida, Hiroko Itô, Kôji Mitsui, Sen Yano, Ginzô Sekiguchi

5 Responses to “WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964) – The Dungeon Photo Review!”

  1. If you liked this one, and I know you like horror, Criterion has two more Teshigahara films that they released with this one as part of a de facto trilogy- Pitfall, and The Face of Another. Pitfall is a ghost story complete with socio-economic trappings, and The Face of Another is a great forerunner to people like Cronenberg because it’s all about psychological body horror. (that’s not to say that Cronenberg directly drew inspiration from it… I have no idea)

    • They actually talk about Pitfall and The Face of Another somewhere in the special features. My beloved library has both and they are already on my to see list! Your Cronenberg remark makes me that much more excited to see Face!! No more Toho films for a while though! I’m Tohoverloaded! I had a dream the other night that I was handing out coupons for froot loops wearing a Godzilla costume?! I have five Toho films I need to write reviews for and that just isn’t going to happen in the next week and a half! I’m aiming for 3 at this point.

  2. Thanks to John of The Droid You’re Looking For, I have now discovered your wonderful website! And then I saw your review of ‘Woman in the Dunes’, which ended up being a double win! Very, very cool! Also, it is always great to find fellow horror fans! Consider Anti-Film School a fan!


    • John over at TDYLF is the cat’s meow. Thank you Steve! That is one hell of a nice comment! My dad was a huge horror fan so I have literally been watching horror my entire life. I live and breath film, but my focus here is mainly horror. There is still so much more I need to see, and that is incredibly comforting! I’m betting Anti-Film School could learn me a thing or too.

  3. […] The Face of Another and Woman in the Dunes. All three films are absolutely brilliant! I reviewed Woman in the Dunes for my Toho feature and since The Face of Another qualified decade-speaking I thought I would sneak […]

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