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Woman In The Dunes

Finally, surfacing after years of unavailability, the 1964 Japanese film Woman In The Dunes, the first feature by director Hiroshi Teshigahara, tells a story as simple as it is resonant. Having missed the last bus back to civilization, an amateur naturalist (Eiji Okada) is offered shelter by the people inhabiting the seaside desert he has been exploring for new species of insects. Placed in the house of a young widow (Kyôko Kishida), a house that rests in the belly of a sand dune, he greedily hits her up for food and takes her hospitality for granted. The next day, however, he finds escape impossible and learns that the villagers expect him, at the cost of his water ration, to help his host shovel sand for a living, both to keep their house from collapsing and to support the local economy, which apparently depends on selling sand to the local industries. Even while making attempts to escape the dehumanizing task forced upon him, Okada finds himself drawn to Kishida, whose attitude toward her situation is far more ambiguous. At a time when such scenarios weren't uncommon, Teshigahara crafted a parable for human existence, based on the novel by Kôbô Abe, as meaningful as the work of his contemporaries. Aiding matters in this hauntingly unique film are Toru Takemitsu's score and the striking cinematography of Hiroshi Segawa, who makes the sand and the claustrophobic shack as palpable as the surprisingly sensual exchanges between the two leads.

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