Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna) is a Japanese film that was released in 1964. The story started as a novel written by Kobo Abe that was released in 1962. Fairly quickly producers snatched it up to create a movie out of it. It won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964 and was nominated for Best Director.
The story is about an entomologist named Niki Junpei. Niki travels around trying to collect different types of bugs. He goes to an area ripe with sand dunes and ends up missing his bus. He is advised to stay the night in the local village and there he ends up meeting a young widow. The house he is taken to is at the bottom of a sand pit, and the widow has been given the labor of digging for water. She is also supposed to prevent the sands from destroying her house so that the other houses can remain standing. With the shifting sands this is an almost impossible labor.
The next morning Niki heads for the ladder to climb back up it but finds that it has disappeared. The villagers shout down to him that he is to remain in the sand to help the widow at her task. Niki takes the widow as a captive in order to force the villagers to let him leave, but he releases her when the house at the bottom of the dune almost falls in on itself due to the mounting sand on the outside of the house.
Niki slowly realizes that he is not going to be able to leave the dunes and finds himself attracted to the widow. She is attracted to him as well and soon they become lovers. They then have to cope with the unending tasks of keeping the house standing while digging for water. Niki eventually gets the chance to escape the dunes but chooses to stay because of his feelings for the widow.
The movie is presented in black and white. It has been noted that it displays a large amount of eroticism despite that fact that it was released in the 1960’s. Today film makers study the movie in order to see how to portray eroticism in their movies and how to film a beautiful scene. It has also been noted that this is one of the few movies where an inanimate object seems to become a character in the movie. The sand itself shifts and turns and becomes a type of villian, and a type of savior.
The movie has been likened to a slow-moving thriller as well as to the Twilight Zone due to it’s many various twists, turns and flashbacks. The widow, who suffers from a sort of mental instability, and Niki himself, who eventually succumbs to the same fate, both lead the viewer into a world where everything seems desolate, and some thing seem magical.