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Woman in the Dunes [DVD] [1964] [US Import] [NTSC]

Eiji Okada , Kyko Kishida , Hiroshi Teshigahara    DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 135.95
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Woman in the Dunes [DVD] [1964] [US Import] [NTSC] + Kuroneko - Masters of Cinema series [DVD] [1968]
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Product details

  • Actors: Eiji Okada, Kyko Kishida, Hiroko It, Kji Mitsui, Sen Yano
  • Directors: Hiroshi Teshigahara
  • Writers: Eiko Yoshida, Kb Abe
  • Producers: Kiichi Ichikawa, Tadashi no
  • Format: Black & White, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Unrated (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 4 Jan 2000
  • Run Time: 123 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00003G4JA
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 369,784 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)



A bizarre and austere thriller with more than a touch of Samuel Beckett, Woman of the Dunes can be read as an oblique allegory of human existence. An entomologist, Niki, on an expedition to a desert region, gets cut off from his party and spends the night with a young tribal widow who lives at the bottom of a huge sand-pit. The next morning, he finds he's trapped in the pit, unable to escape. The rest of the tribe, it seems, has decided he's the woman's ideal mate. She's very attractive, but Niki's a city boy through and through, can't speak her language, and the main activity on offer (besides sex) is dredging up the drifting sand that constantly threatens to engulf the pit. Observing Niki's struggle to escape with the same detachment that the entomologist bestowed on his insects, Teshigahara treats his subject with quiet, ironic humour. But behind the story (from a novel by the great Japanese writer Kobo Abe) there's an implied philosophical theme about acceptance and harmony. And in its close, vivid attention to the textures of sand and flesh, the photography is deeply sensuous. --Philip Kemp

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When you have to have it, you have to have it! 18 May 2003
Format:VHS Tape
Well... "The Woman In The Dunes" is a masterpiece of visual art, storytelling and of course eroticism.You will not be able to leave your seat the moment you begin to watch this movie. My personal experience with this film was exceptionaly different from other ones that I feel absolutely confident to recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic movie experience. "The Woman In The Dunes" will haunt you in your dreams. Watch it, trust me.
Next step: Onibaba
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars boing! love this master 6 Jan 2014
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
beautiful, turgid, studied japanese madness. If your a fan of fine cinematography and can sit through hours of intelligble beaqutiful simplistic beauty. If you admire kurosawa and sanjit ray, you going to love these
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  73 reviews
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating image of that timeless dance 3 April 2003
By V. N. Dvornychenko - Published on
When I first saw this movie a number of years ago it made a tremendous impression. I had walked in "cold" into an LA art theatre and had no idea what I was watching and what to expect. But I soon found myself mesmerized as if under the spell of the Ancient Mariner - it still retains some of this power today.
The plot of this movie has been fairly well summarized by several reviewers. For completeness, I give a thumbnail sketch: A youngish man for the city (Tokyo) goes to a desolate part of the countryside to collect insects (his hobby). He overstays, and misses the last bus back. The local villagers decide to put him up with "Granny" - who turns out to be thirtyish, not-unattractive woman, who ominously lives at the bottom of a sand pit. The next morning the man finds the ladder removed, and himself trapped in the sand pit. Much of the movie portrays his half-hearted attempts to escape, and his tempestuous relationship with his woman "jailor." Near the end of the movie he is given a clear and easy chance to escape, but decides to "postpone" his departure.
This film is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by the Japanese writer, Kobo Abe. A major and fascinating writer, Abe shares stylistic affinities with Dostoyevsky and (especially) Camus. Alienation and loss of identity are prominent Abe motifs (as they are with Camus). The movie was made in Japan; so unlike many Hollywood films, it is fairly faithful to the novel. For stylistic reasons, it was made in black and white: shadows are an essential element in the mood.
An extreme reductionist view of the film/novel might go something like this: The movie explores the eternal dance by which man and woman accommodate themselves to each other. The woman's need for security, stability, and social respectability often conflict with the man's need for freedom, new experiences, and impractical dreams. Gradually, through a largely unconscious process, the two make those small adjustments which allow for a log-term - if somewhat uneasy - alliance.
A secondary theme is the corrosive effects of time. Or more accurately, the effects of the second law of thermodynamics/entropy: things not constantly repaired, whether house or relationship, inevitably deteriorate. Time/entropy is represented in the film by the unceasing flow of sand. Light and shadows - prominent throughout the film - symbolize the dualities of life.
It is easy to make a case that the movie has a misogynistic tone. Certainly the image of woman as an ant-lion lurking at the bottom a sand pit is not the most flattering. But upon further analysis this view must be rejected. The reason the protagonist does not return to his former life (once given the chance) is simply that his former life lacked emotional meaning. The struggle with the woman at the bottom of the sand pit, although grim in certain respects, reconnects him with those parts of himself which his overly civilized and sterile city life had disconnected.
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Ikebana-Trained Artiste Shows Startling Avant-Garde Style in an Intriguing DVD Box Set 19 Aug 2007
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on
Filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara was a true artiste who saw film as one of several creative outlets, which is why the sum of his cinematic output feels relatively paltry compared to his contemporaries. The Criterion Collection has smartly seen fit to present a four-disc DVD set showcasing his three most accomplished works - plus four shorts and a feature-length documentary about Teshigahara and his most frequent collaborator, author/screenwriter Kb Abe. Teshigahara's style can best be described as avant-garde, especially compared to the previous generation of Japanese filmmakers who focused far more on narrative structure and emotional consistency - Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu. As judged by these works, Teshigahara seems far interested more in challenging a viewer's sensibilities with movies that confound as much as they resonate. The results were not always successful, but they are well worth experiencing.

The first film of the set, 1962's "Pitfall" (****), represents Teshigahara's debut as a feature filmmaker and is both an expressionistic ghost story and a scathing social critique of Japan's post-WWII labor conditions within the mining industry. The mystery-laden plot focuses on a poor coal miner, who is murdered in front of his young son after moving to a ghost town where the local mine becomes a battleground between the two unions that run it. The miner's ghost attempts to solve the crime and figure out the motive, all the while as mistrust permeates the community with more deaths occurring. The filmmaker's social agenda sometimes gets in the way of a corking detective story, but he also presents a haunting, often surreal allegory of social alienation and moral bankruptcy. Hisashi Igawa lends a palpable desperation to the doomed miner, while Kunie Tanaka cuts an appropriately austere figure as the unavoidable stranger in the white suit.

An international art house hit that even garnered Oscar nominations, 1964's "Woman in the Dunes" (*****) is the set's centerpiece and a deserving masterpiece. The highly symbolic story focuses on an amateur entomologist on what he thinks is a day trip from Tokyo to a seaside area with vast sand dunes. As he looks for a particular beetle that he thinks will bring him fame within scientific circles, he loses track of time, and local villagers come upon him. For overnight lodging, they take him to a woman who lives in the bottom of a sand pit reachable only by a rope ladder. With the ladder gone the next morning, it dawns on him that he is being held captive by the villagers. From this revelation, Teshigahara and Abe focus on how the man deals with the situation and his evolving feelings toward the woman. Eiji Okada (Hiroshima Mon Amour, The Ugly American) dominates every scene as the emotionally volatile entomologist evolving from sexist entitlement to humiliating desperation to serene resignation. As the woman, the offbeat-looking Kyko Kishida initially seems to be playing Friday to Okada's Robinson Crusoe, but her character starts to reveal layers that startle and fill in necessary plot details. The film's overall unnerving tone makes it feel often like an extended episode of a Twilight Zone.

The third film presented is 1967's "The Face of Another" (***1/2), which provides some unsettling sci-fi elements in its piercing exploration of identity, personal freedom and social acceptance. It's probably the most audacious of the three films, but Teshigahara's overly stylized approach makes it arguably the least satisfying on an emotional level. That's because the primary characters feel somewhat removed from reality starting with an embittered burn victim named Okuyama, his face completely bandaged. He has an oddly co-dependent relationship with his psychiatrist, who gives him a prosthetic mask that allows him to start his life anew. However, Okuyama's emotionally isolated wife returns into his life, and the inevitable complications occur. Meanwhile, there is a parallel story centered on a young woman who bears a large radiation burn on her face, a victim of the atomic bomb dropped in Nagasaki. Her wish is to conform wither surroundings and be accepted, which makes for an intriguing counterpoint to Okuyama's plight. Tatsuya Nakadai (Harakiri, Ran, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) plays the challenging role of Okuyama with effective menace and melancholy, and as his wife, the legendary Machiko Ky (Rashomon, Ugetsu, Floating Weeds) lends an elegant but tangible sense of concealment to her relatively few scenes.

Each film benefits greatly from Tru Takemitsu's mood-setting music impressive for the versatility he displays with each score. Although extras are modest, each DVD has the original trailer and a generally illuminating if sometimes overly verbose video essay by James Quandt, who heads the Ontario Cinematheque. The fourth disc contains "Teshigahara and Abe", an intriguing documentary that covers the filmmaker's eclectic life, including his years being groomed to take over his father's world-renowned ikebana (flower arrangement) school. The four relatively modest shorts provide variable interest to aficionados - 1953's "Hokusai" spotlights the famous block artist; 1956's "Ikebana", a color film which shows the hard-earned artistry found in his father's school; 1958's "Tokyo 1958", an odd curio designed to show the vibrancy of the city at the time; and 1965's "Ako", a simple short about a girl's night on the town. Finally, there is a fifty-page booklet that provides further insight into a filmmaker more than worthy of rediscovery.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sand Never Rests 2 Sep 2004
By Glenn A. Buttkus - Published on
In Japan,this film is titled SUNA NO ONNA. In 1964, the movie won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes, and it was nominated for two Oscars. It was directed by the multi-talented Hiroshi Teshigahara, who as well as a film director, was a poet, calligrapher, a wood block artist, had worked with ceramics, and had directed opera. It was based on a novel by Kobe Abe. The themes prevelant in the film leap from Zen parable to existential horror and Noh drama. It is reminiscent of stories by Franz Kafka, like METAMORPHOSIS.

The cinematographer was Hiroshi Segawa, and he played with light and shadow like a painter, finding a perfectly balanced blend between Abe's prose and Teshigahara's vision. He helped Sand become the third major character in the film, giving it personality, creating a Dali-esque canvas. He photographed sand as if it were a breathing beast, with wind rippling over the white dunes spreading the sand like waves of water, flapping the edges like it was moving silk. And he utilized a lot of extreme close-ups of skin pores choked with grains of sand, and sweaty strands of hair with sand granules clinging to them.

Toru Takemitsu did the music. The score was minimalist, yet powerful and staccato, piercing through us with flute, drum, and strings. The music only materialized when it was needed and necessary. Most of the film was not underscored with music. We heard breathing, moaning, rolling waves, shoveling, the crackling of fire, the bubbling of water, soap on skin, and the terrible creaking of old wood as that house swayed beneath the steady onslaught of the sand.

An essay written by Albert Camlus on the Myth of Sisyphus influenced the plot; that if a person is forced to exercise their entire being toward nothing, accomplishing nothing, mired in repetition, the human spirit is still not vanquishable. It will find joy in the task. Camus wrote,"happiness and the absurd are twin sons of the same earth; inseparable." Sisyphus achieved an emotional victory after he learned to love the rock he was pushing repeatedly up the mountainside. Our protagonists achieved a kind of emotional victory when their labor became sacred and necessary.

Eiji Okada played Niki Jumpei, a stranger wandering the dunes searching for insects; especially one rare beetle. Missing the last bus back to Tokyo, he approached some villagers and requested local accommodations. They agreed, and let him stay the night in a house at the bottom of one of their great sand pits. This was a village that the sand had attempted to devour, comprised of a honeycomb of pits dotted across the shoreline, mostly devoured by the shifting sands; only the occasional rooftop protruding out of the darkness of the many pits.

His hostess, played by Kyoko Kishida, was a thirty-something woman, widowed by the sand, and determined to stay the course, to remain in her domicle. She had to shovel the windblown sand constantly to deny the elements the chance to bury her alive. The following morning the man finds that the rope ladder he descended on was missing. He was trapped. Obviously the villagers were in on the conspiracy. Trapped there he lost his freedom, but in its place he found purpose, and with purpose he found meaning, and with meaning he found a strange joy; something he had never known.

This is a stunning film, perfectly in balance; blending poetry, literature, calligraphy, cinematography, and music. It is what all good movies aspire to be-- it is art. It a true classic, almost without flaw. I saw this film three decades ago, and as a twenty-something youth, during my University days, I was not fully appreciative of the subtleties within the piece. It is a timeless parable of the human condition, a film that begs for more than one viewing. The photography haunted me, and the eroticism, and the existential terror stayed with me. It made me hunger to read the novel.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinary Film! 2 Nov 1999
By Peter S. Lunde - Published on
Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes came to me at a time 30 years ago when I was watching 3-4 foreign films every week for about a year. For me, it remains a powerful film that has stayed cemented in my mind all these years. Universal and contemporary, it spellbinds the viewer with lyrical, sensuous b&w imagery. The story is allegorical. It focuses on what really binds a man and a woman together: lust and love and purpose. The trapped man's intellectual pursuits change from collecting dead insects to collecting life-saving water. Everything the man needs to be happy and satisfied ultimately becomes clear to him. He "frees" himself from the anomie and sterility of modern life by learning to live a purposeful existence based on emotional and physical needs. He no longer wants to escape his existence in the sand, for the sand prison, and all that it has to offer, frees him forever.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, erotic, mystical, superb film! 20 Feb 2000
By A Customer - Published on
You have to watch "Woman in the Dunes" several times to even begin to catch all the symbolism in this amazing film. Just consider, for example, the begining of the film...all those official stamps for "identification" followed by the anonymous shifting sands and the strident chaos depicted in the musical score by Toru Takemitsu. Indeed the film, based on the famous Kobo Abe novel of the same name, is all about our identities. A business executive hunting for bugs in the midst of sand if to say, looking for meaning in a vast desert. I will not spoil the story for you...but you will plunge from the modern world of government forms with its anonymous shifting sands into the depths of a rural, almost primitive world where human beings depend on each other for survival...i.e. to bail out that sand.
This film has beautiful black and white photography, wonderful acting and some of the most erotic scenes in cinema accompanied by a haunting sound track. The images will remain with you long after seeing it.
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