Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna) Reviews
The only thing I don't like about this marvellous film is the hero, who constantly evolves but only from one species of asshole to the next; he's just impossible to like. He starts off as a figure of fun, whose petulant behaviour is less a natural response to his loss of liberty than an intellectual's aversion to manual labour. Before resignation finally settles in, he comes to view his sweet and docile companion as complicit in his capture, making the most of nearly every opportunity to treat her abominably. The film is exquisitely photographed and some of the shots of cascading sand are hypnotically beautiful. The spooky avant-garde soundtrack is very effective.
Woman in the Dunes is, first and foremost, a simple and powerful indictment of systemic inequality, the premise involving a woman trapped in a hole, endlessly shoveling sand for the sake of the larger system a perfect encapsulation of what it's like to live at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. No matter how hard she tries, she can't climb up the loose walls of sand. If she doesn't keep working, her house will be buried by it. When a man is added to the mix, the oppression of women also comes into play. The two live together in the dirt, clinging to one another out of desperation, and begin to believe that they belong where they are, their work providing them with a purpose. Their "superiors" give them just enough to survive, as well as opiates like alcohol and cigarettes to keep them complacent. They use them as a source of amusement as well as a source of income. Although the pair gains a further understanding of their environment that makes living bearable, escape is almost never possible. While it's certainly possible to read these developments as a commentary on the futility of human existence, it proves much more rewarding to view the film as a social satire instead; either way, it's an undeniable masterpiece.
Basically, a teacher/bug collecter wanders into the wrong sand dune, and is tricked into captivity in a pit with a woman. And, at night, they shovel sand. Well, Mr. Teacher Man doesn't like the arrangement, and struggles to escape while trying to figure out exact what is going on.
This movie looks amazing. The cinematography is stunning. The abundance of close-ups emphasize the claustrophobic environment as well as serving as a microscope, studying the subjects, much like the teacher would study his bugs. After the movie finished, I felt like I should write a term paper on what I saw, like studying mice in a lab. It was a very interesting visual style. The close-ups also add a gritty feeling as the camera picks up every grain of sand.
The acting is excellent. The man and the woman play very well off each other, both thrown into an awkward situation, neither sure of how to proceed with each other. The set is great. Overall, just a wonderful movie with a lot of symbolism, if you're into that stuff, but which also is great just on its own.