Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna)

1964

Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna)

Critics Consensus

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100%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 27

93%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,379
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Movie Info

When entomologist Jumpei (Eiji Okada) travels to sand dunes on an expedition, he is met by a group of people who offer him a place to spend the night. They soon lead him to a house at the bottom of a sandpit. Upon climbing into the pit, he finds a young widow (Kyoko Kishida) living alone. Placed there by the villagers, her task is to dig sand out of the pit -- not only so that they can avoid getting buried, but so that the locals can use it for construction. The next morning, when Jumpei attempts to leave, he finds that the ladder which brought him into the pit is no longer there and the villagers inform him that he must stay and help the woman dig. After trying to get out of the pit, Jumpei takes his anger out on the woman--only to soon become her lover. After some time, he slowly gives in to accepting his predicament. This interesting story takes a simple yet effective route in philosophical allegory, focusing upon the couple's oppressive confinement and the force of their physical attraction to each other in spite of--or because of--their situation. Taken from the novel by Kobo Abe, director/producer Hiroshi Teshigahara completed this visually stunning feature on a budget of only $100,000. Winning a Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1964, the poetic Woman in the Dunes would go on to be nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Foreign Film (1964) and Best Director (1965). ~ Kristie Hassen, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna)

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (8)

  • A bizarre film, distinguished not so much by Kobo Abe's rather obvious screenplay as by Teshigahara's arresting visual style of extreme depth of focus, immaculate detail, and graceful eroticism.

    Mar 4, 2013 | Full Review…
  • This is like some weird dream.

    Mar 4, 2013 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Rob Mackie

    Guardian
    Top Critic
  • Teshigahara's direction and Segawa's camera-work often render the mundane startling and new, a claim that only good films can make.

    Mar 4, 2013 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • In stunningly composed images by Teshigahara and cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa, that eroticism becomes overwhelming.

    Mar 4, 2013 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • Woman in the Dunes remains a masterpiece, a timeless contemplation of life's essential mystery and a triumph of bold, innovative style.

    Mar 4, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Teshigahara's creative background was in Japan's avant-garde arts scene, and there's a powerful expressiveness to the film's black-and-white cinematography.

    Jul 3, 2004 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Tom Dawson

    BBC.com
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna)

  • Oct 16, 2018
    Hypnotic and potent. The allegory resonates ever more strongly as time passes, and the visuals have not lost their ability to mesmerize, even if the stock and transfer show their age. Strangely, the eroticism popular critics point out in the film features very little nudity, and is instead evocative without being obvious. There is something psychological in effect as the film's couple comes together, perhaps coming down to the sparse sound and lack of excess dialogue. The dream team of Teshigahara, Abe, Segawa, and Tekemitsu should have made more films together.
    Paris S Super Reviewer
  • Apr 01, 2017
    If it's at all possible to know nothing about this movie before you watch it, then do so. The predicament a Japanese entomologist finds himself in will become apparent soon enough. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara and cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa do a phenomenal job of creating unforgettable images of sand through tight shots and unique camera angles, and it may make you feel hot, sticky, and somewhat claustrophobic just watching it. Eiji Okada turns in a solid performance as the entomologist, and Ky?ko Kishida is brilliant as the 'woman in the dunes' who he meets. She has accepted her fate, difficult as it is, and tries to get Okada to accept it as well. The film reflects existential, not Zen, themes, and belongs with Camus and Beckett. Life is meaningless in this pit, there is no escape, and the day to day toil is not only a struggle, but absurd and nonsensical. There is clearly a parallel being drawn to the bugs being buried in the sand as well as struggling futilely in test tubes earlier in the movie. It also reflects man's cruelty in the bugs pinned on boards to the forced labor. The scene towards the end, where the villagers look impassively down through masks and glasses with the taiko drums pounding, demanding a lewd display, is chilling. There are a couple of very raw erotic scenes between Okada and Kishida, heightened by the conditions they find themselves in, and notably occurring as one wipes the other down. In trying to free ourselves of this painful world and the grime it coats us with, if even for only moments, we turn to the embrace of another, and take comfort in carnal moments. It's beautiful and somewhat pathetic at the same time. Okada also experiences a moment of transcendence when he invents a water pump, and sees it as a higher achievement than his original goal of discovering a new species of beetle and having it named after him. There is humanity again, displaying intelligence in improving his lot, and vanity. It's a somewhat grim film, but there is solace in these things. Definitely worth watching.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 08, 2015
    Woman in the Dunes is a must-see for anyone who loves black-and-white films. The cinematography has definitely earned this film some future rewatching, for me. The other elements of the film are above par, though not the greatest; the story is compelling, though it trails off at the end. While Woman In The Dunes is like the Twilight Zone meets 1960s Japanese cinema, still it is something beyond that and warrants a high rating.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • May 29, 2014
    This is not your typical Japanese film. It is strange but very intriguing. I get the sense that there is a lot going on here that I am not perceiving but it doesn't scare me away from the film.
    John B Super Reviewer

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