Two years after The Face of Another and Pitfall, and seven years after I first fell asleep trying to watch it, I finally make it to/through Woman in the Dunes. I know that sentence makes moviewatching seem like a chore, but this was one I’ve been really looking forward to – a movie I knew I would totally love, so it might as well be saved for a special occasion, like staying home from work unable to sleep from painful poison ivy.
This was made in between the other two, and shares their shining, silvery black-and-white cinematography. An entomologist is allowed to stay at a woman’s house in a sand pit but is not allowed to leave. He rages against his situation, declares the sand illogical, tries to escape through cleverness and trickery, and finally (over months, years) resigns himself to it, living with her and helping to fill buckets with sand to be sold by the villagers for building material.
At first he doesn’t trust the woman, then he wants to help her get out, then the villagers gather around the edge of the hole offering him favors if he’ll have sex with her in front of them, and finally they’re an acting married couple, and she’s being lifted out of the hole with pregnancy complications, leaving him a chance to escape which he doesn’t take.
Funny enough, the same week I watched this, Criterion put out a Japanese movie from a year earlier called Insect Woman, a title this film could’ve stolen.
James Quandt’s essay points out the common theme of breaks in identity from Pitfall and Face of Another – the teacher gives up his life of collecting, identifying and documenting and accepts his captive life in the desert. And hey, Quandt saw the same parallel images of sand-flecked bodies between this and Hiroshima mon amour that I was noticing – good for us.
The man, Eiji Okada, is the same actor from Hiroshima mon amour, which is probably why that occurred to me. He later appeared in The Face of Another, Crazed Fruit, Samurai Spy, and in the last year of his life, Stairway to the Distant Past. I’m not sure who the dune woman, Kyôko Kishida, played in Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, but she also starred in Manji which I’d like to see.