Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna) Reviews
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.
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.