Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2016 Cannes Marathon: Woman in the Dunes

(Jury Prize Winner at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival)

Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and written by Kobo Abe that is based on his novel, Woman in the Dunes is the story of an entomologist who finds himself being tricked to live in a village as he shares his home with a woman. The film is a look into a world where people live inside sand dunes where a man tries to escape only to be drawn by the woman he lives with. Starring Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida. Woman in the Dunes is a haunting yet intoxicating film from Hiroshi Teshigahara.

The film is a simple story of a man who is sandy beaches to find insects where he misses his bus and is lured by villagers to stay at the home of a woman beneath sand dunes only to realize that he’s trapped. It’s a film where this amateur entomologist finds himself in a situation he can’t get out of as he lives with a woman who has been living underneath these dunes for years. The job is to dig up sand for the villagers where they would receive monthly rations as it’s a job that is hard for this man yet he finds himself attracted to this woman where a lot of things happen. Kobo Abe’s script doesn’t just explore the world that Niki Junpei (Eiji Okada) is living in but also what he has to do to survive as well as the fact that he is also assigned to impregnate this woman (Kyoko Kishida) though their attraction to each other isn’t immediate. The script doesn’t just play into Junpei trying to find ways to escape but also realize that he is at fault for putting himself in this situation all because he became too interested in bugs and missed his bus back to the city.

Adding to the drama is the growing sexual tension between Junpei and this woman as it would come to ahead though Junpei is married but never implies it in the film’s dialogue as he remains ambiguous to the woman though it is revealed very early in the film during a dream he has. While the plot is a simple one, it does have a structure where its first act is about Junpei dealing with his situation while the second act is about forming this relationship with this woman. Yet, Junpei still wants to escape and return to civilization as a key scene in the film’s second half is about the escape but it’s not just the dune that he has to escape. It’s the land itself as it offers a lot into a world that is removed from civilization and some of the harsh aspects of the modern world.

Hiroshi Teshigahara’s direction is ravishing not just for the visuals he creates but also for the fact that it is set on some of the sandy beaches in Japan. Though it is shot on an Academy 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Teshigahara still manages to create these gorgeous wide shots and extreme close-ups to capture every bit of detail that is in these sandy beaches and the dunes as they are characters in the film. Teshigahara’s camera would often show the look of this home that is surrounded by walls of sand as it feels like a world of its own where the camera would go for high and low angles to capture the landscape as well as some medium shots to play into the intimacy of the house. There is also an air of eroticism and sensuality that prevalent in the film as it relates to the sexual tension. Even as the sex scene is quite intense though it doesn’t show very much but still maintains something that is quite erotic. The film’s third act isn’t just about Junpei’s own failure but also the realization of the world he is in as well as the direction becomes more chaotic to display the people in the village. The film does end in an ambiguous note as it relates to Junpei’s decision as well as his own discoveries of what he could do for himself and this woman he lives with. Overall, Teshigahara creates a mesmerizing yet eerie film about a man living in the sand dunes with a woman.

Cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa does incredible work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it play into vast look of the beach and the attention to detail in the way the sand dunes and some of the bugs are shown as it is a major highlight of the film. Editor Fusako Shuzui does brilliant work with the editing as it is quite stylish in playing with some of the imagery with its usage of wipes, dissolves, and jump-cuts that says a lot to the world that Junpei is in. Art directors Totetsu Hirakawa and Masao Yamazaki do amazing work with the look of the house that is shabby as it‘s partially covered in and around by sand with floor also sandy while the dune that covers it adds a lot to its look.

Sound recorders Ichiro Kato and Shigenosuke Okuyama do excellent work with the sound in capturing the way the heavy wind and beaches sound along with some of the sparse moments inside the home the characters live in. The film’s music by Toru Takemitsu is phenomenal for its usage of eerie strings to play into its sense of horror and drama along with textures in some of the percussive instruments to make things sound chilling along with some intense percussion pieces for one of the film’s darker moments in the third act.

The film’s superb cast features small roles from Hiroko Ito as Junpei’s wife in a very brief flashback as well as performances from Koji Mitsui, Sen Yano, and Ginzo Sekiguchi as villagers who would lure Junpei into the dune and keep him there. The remarkable performances of Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida in their respective roles as Niki Junpei and the titular character where they display that sense of sexual tension with Okada as a dominant who is frustrated with his situation and Kishida trying to make things better while showing him what they have to do survive as two together are engaging to watch.

Woman in the Dunes is a sensational film from Hiroshi Teshigahara. Featuring great performances from Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida as well as ravishing visuals and a haunting score. The film is an intense study of man and woman living together in a very cruel world that is cut off from reality but also says a lot about the cruelties of the world outside. In the end, Woman in the Dunes is a rapturous film from Hiroshi Teshigahara.

Hiroshi Teshigahara Files: Pitfall - The Face of Another - (The Man Without a Map) - (Summer Soldiers) - Antonio Gaudi - (Rikyu) - (Princess Goh)

© thevoid99 2016

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