Suna no onna (Women in the Dunes), 1964
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Written by Kôbô Abe
Japanese with English subtitles, 123 min.
Japanese writer, photographer and inventor Kōbō Abe has often been compared to Kafka and Camus for his existential explorations of human individuality and freedom. But being a photographer and having an eye for surreal images, his texts are often very visual, detailed and overwhelmingly vivid, basically begging to be made into films. Along comes fellow Japanese Renaissance man Hiroshi Teshigahara, a master of avant-garde filmmaking, and makes literary history into film history by retelling Kōbō Abe’s existential stories in such a cinematic language that is rarely equaled, never surpassed. Teshigahara not only understands Abe perfectly, but also seems to have a special sensibility for finding just the right frame, just the right image and just the right face to translate existential anxieties to the screen.
Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes, 1964) is the unquestionable masterpiece of the Abe-Teshigahara collaborations. A teacher and amateur entomologist is trapped by some villagers into sharing the endless struggle of a woman living among all-invasive sand dunes. The suffocating atmosphere created by the sand, the seemingly useless work of shoveling it every night and the man’s resistance, revolt and ultimate acceptance all allude strongly to Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, but with several other layers added to it, such as desperate sexuality, sense of community and endless inventiveness.
Here is the original trailer…
…and a must-see video essay about the film by James Quandt.