Challenge Week 34: Woman in the Dunes

What a strange movie.

An entomologist studying insects in the desert finds that he’s missed the last bus home and asks if there’s a place to stay in a nearby village. There is: with a woman who lives in a hole in a sand dune. She feeds him and gives him a bed in her small house, but he discovers her working all night digging sand and sending it up to the surface with pulleys. Soon he also discovers that the villagers have no intention of ever pulling him up again either, and in fact intend him to become husband to this woman and help her dig sand for them to sell.


The woman is resigned to her life and, in fact, as he offers suggestions for how to get out, she’s horrified at the idea of leaving her home and this life that she knows. The film is mostly these two people and their interactions, but there’s a lot (A LOT) going on under the surface. The man seems to be adrift from society anyway, and in a way this is just the next logical step. When he does get out briefly, he quickly gets lost and then mired in quicksand. This is a metaphorical entrapment as much as a physical one.

I’m actually writing this without my notes, of which I took quite a few for this film, and I may expand this review once I get back to them, because it did make me think a lot, even while much of it baffled me.


I won’t way it was exactly a fun watch, and a lot of it is slow and obscure (which are not necessarily bad things for me), and there’s one scene that made me almost physically sick, but it’s also been a couple of weeks since I saw it and there are moments and images that haven’t left my brain yet, and I definitely have to give it props for that. This one may well rise in my rankings with more thought.

Stats and stuff…

1964, Japan
directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, written by Kôbô Abe
starring Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Woman in the Dunes entered my chart:

Woman in the Dunes > The Postman
Woman in the Dunes < Paris, Texas
Woman in the Dunes < Shenandoah
Woman in the Dunes > Public Enemies
Woman in the Dunes > Battle Royale
Woman in the Dunes > Troll 2
Woman in the Dunes > X-Men: First Class
Woman in the Dunes > Gangster Squad
Woman in the Dunes > Apocalypse Now
Woman in the Dunes > Obvious Child
Woman in the Dunes > Paths of Glory
Woman in the Dunes > The Cool World

Final #1390 out of 3703 films on my chart (62%)

It is now my #1 Hiroshi Teshigahara film, my #22 Avant-Garde/Experimental film, my #3 Japanese New Wave film, and my #14 film of 1964.

Woman in the Dunes was recommended by Grant Watson, a friend from Twitter. Averaging together this #1390 ranking with my #780 ranking of his other film, The Long Memory, gives Grant an average ranking of 1085.

A few quotes…

Niki Jumpei: Do you shovel to survive, or survive to shovel?

Niki Jumpei: It’s useless. The sand can swallow up cities and countries, if it wants to.

A few more screenshots…