Woman in the Dunes  

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The surreal, and at times absurd, nature of Woman in the Dunes has drawn many comparisons to such major existentialist works as Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit and Samuel Beckett's Happy Days.

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Woman in the Dunes or Woman of the Dunes Suna no Onna "Sand woman") is a 1964 Japanese New Wave film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. It received positive critical reviews and was nominated for two Academy Awards. The screenplay for the film was adapted by Kōbō Abe from his 1962 novel. Aside from its intriguing premise, this film is notable for the life that Teshigahara brings to the ever shifting sand, which almost becomes a character in its own right.

The music is by Toru Takemitsu and the photography by Hiroshi Segawa.


A schoolteacher, Niki Junpei (Eiji Okada), goes on an expedition to collect insects that inhabit sand dunes. When he misses the last bus home, the villagers suggest that he stay the night. They guide him down a rope ladder to a house in a sand quarry, to stay with a young widow (Kyōko Kishida), a meek and simple woman whose husband and daughter were killed in a sandstorm and who now lives alone. She is employed by the villagers to dig sand for sale to be used in concrete and to save the house from burial in the advancing sand.

When Junpei tries to leave the next morning, he finds the ladder removed and cannot climb the sand since it keeps collapsing. The villagers expect him to become the woman's husband and to assist her in digging sand. Junpei becomes the widow's lover, but he still yearns to leave. One morning, using an improvised grappling hook, he escapes from the sand dune and runs away, with the villagers soon giving chase. Junpei is unfamiliar with the geography of the area and becomes trapped in quicksand. The villagers free him and return him to the house.

Eventually, Junpei resigns himself to his situation. He requests time to watch the nearby sea, and the villagers offer to grant it if he makes love to the woman while they watch, but she fends him off. Through his persistent effort to trap a crow as a messenger, he discovers a way to draw water from the damp sand at night and becomes absorbed in the task of perfecting the technique. When it is discovered that the woman is pregnant, the villagers take her to a doctor and forget to remove the rope ladder before they leave. Junpei has a chance to escape, but he chooses to stay.

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