Friday, 29 August 2008

No.49 : Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna)

IMDb Link :

This 1964, black and white film in Japanese may not be everyone’s cup of sake but it is well worth a look, and certainly something different.

A Japanese bug collector decides to spend his three day holiday scouring the sand dunes of a remote area in the hope of going fame as the discoverer of a new species. Big mistake! When he misses his last bus home some friendly villagers suggest he stays over with them. He is slightly surprised when he is ushered down a rope ladder in the dark, and even more so when the ladder is gone next morning.

He finds that he has been left in a shack, in a big hole, in the desert with only a naked widow for company. Sounds like a good deal? Not really when you find she’s a bit mental and that you have to dig sand for food. The man initially tries to escape, using some elaborate ruses and eventually gets free only to fall into quicksand and be recaptured. The villagers believe that if the shack gets swallowed by the desert they‘ll be next, and they also have a sideline in selling the sand to construction companies, despite its inferior quality.

After a while Mr Bug succumbs to his situation and begins to mine sand and plough the woman. When he sets a trap for a crow, so that he can use it to send a message, he inadvertently finds a way to gather water - can this discovery help the villagers in their plight?

When the woman falls pregnant the rope ladder is left by the villagers who have taken her to a doctor. Will our man escape or has he become institutionalised?

The premise here is ripe for nit picking but to do so would be missing the point. Of course the idea of living in a shack in a hole in the dunes is ludicrous, as is mining sand when you live in a desert. I won’t go into the metaphors employed, but basically you have a man in a desperate situation having to carry out pointless tasks. The sand itself is relentless like time and the man has to make the best of his bad lot. Basically if you are married and in a job you’ll appreciate what’s going on!

The film is really hypnotic, with dialogue sparse and a jangly soundtrack that fills in the blanks. The sand is of course a major player and it is shot so well and so differently that you feel that it is a character in its own right. The man’s plight is so frustrating and ultimately pointless that you can’t help but be drawn in.

I’m not a great follower of Japanese B&W cinema but this one was great. The whole thing is so evocative and moving that it’ll stay with you for years - a bit like getting sand in your trainers after a day at the beach.

Best Bit : Ladder quandary - should he stay or should he go?

‘W’ Score 18/23

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