Woman in the Dunes

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Woman in the Dunes
Woman in the Dunes poster.jpg
Japanese theatrical poster
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Screenplay by Kōbō Abe [1]
Based on The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe
Produced by
  • Kiichi Ichikawa
  • Tadashi Ono [1]
CinematographyHiroshi Segawa [1]
Edited byFusako Shuzui [1]
Music by Toru Takemitsu [1]
Teshigahara Production [1]
Distributed by Toho
Release date
  • February 15, 1964 (1964-02-15)(Japan)
Running time
146 minutes [1]
CountryJapan [1]

Woman in the Dunes or Woman of the Dunes (砂の女, Suna no Onna, "Sand woman") is a 1964 Japanese New Wave drama directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, starring Eiji Okada as an entomologist searching for insects and Kyōko Kishida as the titular woman. 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. [1]



School teacher and amateur entomologist Niki Junpei leaves Tokyo on a beach expedition to collect tiger beetles and other insects that live in sandy soil. After a long day of searching, Junpei misses the last bus ride back to town. A village elder and some of his fellow local villagers suggest that he stay the night at their village. Junpei agrees and is guided down a rope ladder to a hut at the bottom of a sand dune, the home of a young woman. Junpei learns that she lost her husband and daughter in a sandstorm a year ago and now lives alone; their bodies are said to be buried under the sand somewhere near the hut. After dinner, the woman goes outside to shovel the sand into buckets, which the villagers reel in from the top of the dune. Junpei offers to help but she refuses, telling him that he is a guest and there is no need for him to help on the first day.

The next morning, Junpei gets ready to leave as he has must return to his job in Tokyo, but finds that the rope ladder has been pulled up. Unable to escape as the sand surrounding the hut is too steep and does not give him enough grip to climb up, he quickly realises that he is trapped and expected to live with the woman and assist her in digging sand, which is sold to cement manufacturers, in exchange for food and water. Junpei begrudgingly accepts his role, which the woman has long accepted without question.

Junpei becomes the widow's lover but hopes to escape from the dune. One evening, using an improvised grappling hook, he escapes from the sand dune and runs away, the villagers in pursuit. Junpei is unfamiliar with the geography of the area and becomes trapped in quicksand. The villagers free and return him to the hut.

Eventually, Junpei resigns himself to his situation but requests time to see the nearby sea; in exchange, he needs to have sex with the woman while the villagers watch. Junpei agrees but she refuses and 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 by capillary action and becomes absorbed in perfecting the technique. When it is discovered that the woman is ill from an ectopic pregnancy, the villagers take her to a doctor, leaving the rope ladder down when they go. Junpei instead chooses to stay, telling himself that he can still attempt to escape after showing the villagers his method of water production. The film's final shot is of a police report that shows that Junpei has been missing for seven years and declared as having disappeared.




Prior to the production of Woman in the Dunes, Hiroshi Teshigahara directed Pitfall (おとし穴, Otoshiana), a.k.a. The Pitfall and Kashi To Kodomo, which was written by Kōbō Abe. Pitfall was Teshigahara's first feature, and the first of his four film collaborations with Abe and Takemitsu.

Technical details

With a run time of 123 minutes / 147 minutes (director's cut), the film was shot in 35 mm negative format by Hiroshi Segawa, the director of photography.


Woman in the Dunes was shot on location at Tottori Sand Dunes, Tottori Prefecture, Japan. They form the only large dune system in Japan. The dunes were created by sediment deposits carried from the Chūgoku Mountains by the Sendai River into the Sea of Japan. [4]


The roadshow version of Woman in the Dunes was released in Japan on February 15, 1964 where it was distributed by Toho. [1] The general release for Woman in the Dunes in Japan was April 18, 1964; the film was cut to 127 minutes. [5]

The film was released in the United States by Pathe Contemporary Films with English subtitles on September 17, 1964. [1] The film ran at 127 minutes. [1] The film was also featured in the New York Film Festival on September 16, 1964.

The film was also featured in several other film festivals across the world such as the Cannes Film Festival in France, Adelaide Film Festival in Australia, and Clasicos del Cine Japones in Argentina on November 21, 2000.

The Criterion Collection released a DVD box set collecting Woman in the Dunes in its original length along with Teshigahara's Pitfall and The Face of Another in 2007. This release is now out of print. [6] In August 2016, Criterion released the film as a stand-alone Blu-ray with a brand new high definition transfer. [7]

Critical reception

The film has a rating of 100% on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 27 critical reviews with an average rating of 8.5/10. [8] It was one of Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky's ten favorite movies. [9]

Roger Ebert inducted Woman in the Dunes into his Great Movies list in 1998. Viewing the work as a retelling of the Sisyphus myth, he wrote, "There has never been sand photography like this (no, not even in "Lawrence of Arabia"), and by anchoring the story so firmly in this tangible physical reality, the cinematographer, Hiroshi Segawa, helps the director pull off the difficult feat of telling a parable as if it is really happening." [10] Strictly Film School describes it as "a spare and haunting allegory for human existence". [11] According to Max Tessier, the main theme of the film is the desire to escape from society. [12] [13] The film's composer, Toru Takemitsu, was praised. Nathaniel Thompson wrote, "[Takemitsu's] often jarring, experimental music here is almost a character unto itself, insinuating itself into the fabric of the celluloid as imperceptibly as the sand." [14] Ebert also stated that the score "doesn't underline the action but mocks it, with high, plaintive notes, harsh, like a metallic wind." [10]


The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival [15] and, somewhat unusually for an avant-garde film, was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the same year (losing to Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow ). [16] In 1965, Teshigahara was nominated for the Best Director Oscar (losing to Robert Wise for The Sound of Music ). In 1967, the film won the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.

See also

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