7. “Woman in the Dunes”, Hiroshi Teshigahara (1964)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list


Woman in the Dunes aka 砂の女 or Suna no Onna

dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, scr. Kobo Abe based on his novel Sand Woman cin. Hiroshi Segawa with Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida

In 100 words: “Are you shoveling to survive, or surviving to shovel?” This stunning masterpiece of eroticism, adventure, and post-apocalyptic vision entices the audience with its loopy, Sisyphean storytelling, sensual images and sinuous sounds. The story builds slowly, suspense pulsating from every edit, music invading spaces, but once that ladder disappears, the film speeds through one existential dread after another, inviting such fascinating discussions about human dependency, survival, and community. Teshigahara’s craft is astonishing: few images are more tactile than two bodies covered in sand, a man stuck in quicksand or as terror-inducing as a wall of sand.  Elusive, dreamy, and certainly unforgettable.

Other Movies for Context: Teshigahara’s movie is one of a kind, it’s form so distinguished and so refined, few have the same sort of effect, although he’s definitely an important of the Japanese New Wave. When I think of this movie, I think about Nagisa Oshima and his impressive films like In The Realm of the Senses (1972), a hypnotic and landmark erotica, and Shinji Aoyama’s Eureka (2001), a startling Japanese movie that functions as psychological character study after a trauma.

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