In addition to being a celebrated milestone of Japanese cinema, Woman in the Dunes
is surely one of the most sensual films ever made--not in the purely erotic sense (although eroticism is certainly a potent element), but as a work of pure cinema, in which cinematography and nature combine as powerful forces of artistic expression, melded with a timeless parable of the human condition. Dialogue is sparse and precise, submitting to dreamlike atmosphere and imagery that is genuinely universal; this is the cinematic equivalent of a prehistoric cave drawing, telling a story for all humankind.
Woeful of the trappings of civilization, a young entomologist enjoys solitary fieldwork among the dunes of an oceanside village. Missing his bus to Tokyo, he accepts an invitation to stay in the home of a young widow, whose hut lies at the bottom of an ominous sand pit. He soon realizes that he has been trapped, and that his new role as surrogate husband--helping with the Sisyphean task of shoveling the daily torrent of windblown sand--has been forced on him by a mysterious conspiracy of villagers, who supply provisions from above via rope and pulley. As time passes, the man's initial fury gives way to gradual acceptance, until life in the sand pit seems preferable to attempted escape.
Hiroshi Teshigahara was a 37-year-old novice when he made this film, which received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film. Intimately observing the emotional arc of his characters, Teshigahara incorporates sex, desperation, ingenuity, suffering, pleasure, and much more into this hypnotic visual experience (accompanied by Toru Takemitsu's masterful score), in which sand becomes the third and most dominant character. With images and sequences that are hauntingly and unforgettably evocative, Woman in the Dunes remains a truly extraordinary work of cinematic art. --Jeff Shannon