Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sand And Sensuality

Suna no Onna (Woman In The Dunes) (1964)
by Hiroshi Teshigara

Adjust for 1960's pacing, and you will find one of Japan's best pieces of cinema. The story is one simple enough to not really require subtitles, at least at first, a young professor studying insects gets trapped in a sandstorm and finds shelter amidst a strange house in the middle of the desert with a "mysterious woman', after the storm clears the man realizes he is at the bottom of a huge sand pit, with only a quaint house built in it's center.
The professor soon comes to realize that he cannot leave, neither the crumbling sand walls, nor the enigmatic villagers who bring supplies, will let him.
He learns that he is not the first and is not expected to be the last to "work the pit".
He then begins in a relationship with the mystery woman which is strained by his perpetual need to escape and her fear of abandonment and the outside world.
story is simple and complex, the cinematography beautiful and up to modern standards, the sand is made to move, ebb, and resemble water at numerous times, giving what could otherwise be a barren wasteland a kind of heat induced feverish tangibility and character.
The biggest drawback is this films pace which at times seems bleakly endless at other times vivid and powerful.
There is some sensuality in the film, but it doesn't really seem to be the film's cornerstone, what sex there is, seems more about contrasting flesh with the grainy roughness of sand, the harshness of isolation with the pleasures of coming together.
Anyway if you've enjoyed Kurusawa, at his most philosophical, and older Japanese films in the past and have the necessary patience, it's really excellent film, that is much more tightly constructed than it's surreal erotica tag lines might lead you believe.

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