Woman in the Dunes

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Title: 砂の女 (Suna no Onna)
English Title: Woman in the Dunes
Release Date: 1964

This movie was dark. Not just in the sense that it was depressing and macabre, but rather that the screen was just physically hard to see. I was reminded of Tim Burton’s Batman and remembered having to strain my eyes through the darkness just to see what was going on.


But maybe the cinematography fits the subject matter – two people trapped in a hole in the ground. I mean, if the lighting would have been brighter, the setting probably wouldn’t have seemed realistic.


This is a movie about futility, about despair, and one which portrays the majority of humanity as selfish, lacking empathy, and stuck in a vicious cycle. As the main character catches buts to pin up on his display board, so too is he eventually caught and put on display.


One of the things that make this story so depressing is that none of the characters ever realize the irony of the situation they are in. It never occurs to the male character, played by Okada Eiji, that what is being done to him is exactly what he had been doing to insects and animals. And the lead female role, the woman in the dunes, played by Kishida Kyoko, never realizes that the only reason she is content with living in the hole is that she has no experience of the outside world.


At some points, Suna no Onna could, at its two hour run time, seem to become tedious and repetitive. As the viewer watches, they too might feel like they are being sucked down into a sandpit, unable to escape. While this might be uncomfortable for some, I found it to be a fascinating feeling and feel that the movie really succeeded in creating a viewing atmosphere similar to the setting of the story.


As Sisyphus was forced to roll the rock back up the hill for eternity, so are our characters here condemned to a life of mundane, futile, repetitious tasks.


But the metaphor for the audience is fairly clear. How much of the things that we do in our own lives serve any actual purpose? How often do we toll on through meaningless tasks simply to etch out some kind of an existence? And yet, as the movie suggests, we become so accustomed to this way of living that, even if we were offered a ladder out, we might not take it.

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