Beyond its bona fides as a Cannes-winning, Oscar-nominated member of the 100% Tomatometer club, “Woman in the Dunes” endures as just an effective piece of storytelling. Without a radio to bring in news of the outside world, Junpei’s predicament takes on a timeless quality. The visual metaphor of sand also gives his story an elemental power that cuts through cultural differences and the film’s more avant-garde touches.
As Junpei settles into his new life with the woman, composer Toru Takemitsu’s screechy music gives it an unnerving edge, while cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa’s extreme close-ups of grains of sand and beads of water on skin render the mere act of brushing or scrubbing sensual. The sand, piled high above the couple in their work pit, also evokes a strong sense of place. It sticks to everything but slips right through one’s fingers. When Junpei tries to climb it, we see how it flows downhill and crumbles underfoot.
What drew me personally to “Woman in the Dunes” was the name Kōbō Abe, who adapted his own novel into the screenplay for this movie. Another book of Abe’s, “The Ruined Map,” made a vivid impression on me the year I moved to Tokyo. It’s a detective novel where the idea of “getting lost” extends to the protagonist’s identity.
Tokyo is often referenced but never seen in “Woman in the Dunes.” The real-life metropolis has a kind of dream logic — far removed from any grid pattern — to the layout of its streets. There are times even today when Google Maps might fail you and those often-nameless streets might lead a person down a similar head-swimming path of confusion. Not really knowing the geography of where he is also works against Junpei in his escape attempts in “Woman in the Dunes.”
/Film – ‘Slash Film: The Daily Stream: Woman In The Dunes Finds Grains Of Truth In A World Of Sand’
Author: Joshua Meyer
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January 14, 2023