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Sweat & Struggle: Thoughts on Woman of the Dunes

Courtesy of Teshigahara Production and Toho (Via Wikipedia)

Woman of the Dunes (Movie, 1964)

Directed By: Hiroshi Teshigahara

Woman of the Dunes (Novel, 1962)  By Abe Kobo

This is a film that wouldn’t capture a majority of my readers’ interest, but I decided to write about it since it’s a movie that I have watched recently (for class purposes) and this blog has movie reviews.

Woman of the Dunes is a 1964 Japanese film based on Abe Kobo’s novel of the same name (1962). Abe Kobo wrote the screenplay for this film and it won the 1964 Cannes Film Festival for the Special Jury Prize.

Niki Junpei is visiting the sand dunes to collect desert insects. He misses the last bus to go back home, so the locals allowed him to stay the night at a young widow’s house. He soon finds out that they sent him to the young widow’s home in hopes that he will be her husband. In other words, he’s a prisoner in this sand dune home and so he tries to escape.

I read Abe Kobo’s Woman of the Dunes before in another class and I didn’t like it. The reason why is just like the movie, the storyline in the book is slow—not a lot happens. Also, some of the shots in the film were excruciatingly painful to watch. For example, when the director took close-up shots of the characters’ sweaty skin. You can just tell from the scene that it’s hot. Also, the close-up shots heighten your other senses to think about the smell of the sweat, the taste of the sweat, and the damp touch of the sweat. So audiences members are not just watching, but also have all their other senses partake in this scene. I mean, it is a good, creative way to aesthetically appreciate the film and I don’t criticize that, but it just didn’t work for me.

One theme that I would like to highlight out of the many others I could mention is escapism. There are many layers of escapism in this film. The most obvious one is Junpei trying to figure out a way to leave the sand village because he’s forced against his will to live with a stranger. Another layer is Junpei trying to escape poverty while living with the woman. Throughout the film, the two main characters struggle to survive off of food rations and water that was given by the villagers. In addition, they constantly have to escape the wrath of nature in which they have to fight for survival against the sand. They have to scoop sand out of their home because their home is slowly sinking into the sand. As you can see, this film has multiple layers and interpretations that can lead to movie discussions with your friends.

Aside from escapism, other themes that pop up in the movie include issues of poverty, human existentialism, creativity, social class, and modernity. So if you like a movie that makes you think, you should watch or read Woman of the Dunes or do both.


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