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Film / Woman in the Dunes

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"Are you shoveling sand to live, or living to shovel sand?"

Suna no onna (砂の女) AKA Sand Woman AKA Woman In The Dunes AKA (The) Woman of the Dunes is a Japanese film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, released in 1964.

Niki Jumpei was an entomologist (a scientist who studies insects). He was simply just trying to collect insects that inhabit sand dunes on an expedition. Since he missed the last bus, the villagers offer him to stay the night. They guide him down a rope ladder to a house in a sand quarry where a young widow lives alone. The villagers employ her to dig sand for sale and to save the house from burial in the advancing sand. Unfortunately, Jumpei discovers the next morning that the villagers don't want him to leave and they want him to help the widow in her endless task of digging sand. Jumpei must find a way to deal with this situation.


This film provides examples of:

  • Allegory: Essentially the whole movie is an allegory for the desire to escape from society and the forces that keep us imprisoned within it.
  • Artistic License: The director admitted that sand won't really pile up at any angle greater than thirty degrees.
  • Attempted Rape: Junpei and the woman are told they can leave the dunes for one hour a day if they let the villagers watch them have sex. The woman disagrees but Jumpei tries to get her to do it (or at least pretend to) because it could be his chance to run away. She ends up fighting Jumpei off and they're left to stay where they are.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: The hero builds one out of fishnet and rags.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The good news is that Jumpei found a way to improve life in the pit by drawing water from the damp sand at night. The bad news is that he has gone missing for 7 years, and it's hard to say what would happen if they find him.
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  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Many extreme close-ups in the early going of the bugs that Jumpei is catching. Later there are similar extreme close-ups of Jumpei and the woman, showing how they are similarly captive.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Jumpei starts one escape attempt by getting the woman drunk, while pouring his own drinks out into the sand.
  • Dutch Angle: Extreme thirst leads Jumpei to hallucinate that the whole shack is underwater, as illustrated by a crooked Dutch Angle shot through the open door.
  • No Name Given: The woman doesn't have a name.
  • Orbital Shot: Around the man as he makes it out of the pit and to the surface, only to realize he has no idea where to go.
  • Psychological Horror: The story of one man being enslaved by having his will to resist gradually broken.
  • Quicksand Sucks: How his first escape fails.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The first sex between Jumpei and the woman takes place after a tussle when she tries to stop Jumpei from tearing the house apart to make a ladder.
  • Staggered Zoom: The film opens with a shot of a large amorphous object. A series of staggered zooms out reveal that the object in the first shot was a single grain of sand, with the last zoom showing the entire beach.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Jumpei tries to escape a few times and fails. Eventually, he gets so used to his situation that he decides not to escape when the opportunity presented itself.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: He isn't even the first one. Previously there was a postcard salesman, and a student who is still there after three years, three doors down.

Alternative Title(s): Suna No Onna


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