Faring the silica crested dunes of Tottori City, Japan is a kind of reprieve for Niki Jumpei, a Tokyo schoolteacher who takes great pleasure in uprooting the rare insects found there. Affixed to a block of black polyethylene foam with a slender pin, these rigor mortis treasures are frozen in time – preserved for an intricate inspection of their function and detail. As Niki wanders the desert, so does his mind, ruminating on scenes from a recently failed relationship. It seems the day has gotten away from him, and as the sun clamps down on the horizon, Niki spots a bizarrely convenient village, whose residents are happy to give him a place to stay. The catch is, as he finds out the next morning, he may never be able to leave.
Hiroshi Teshigahara’s voyeuristic feature, Woman in the Dunes, is a magnified allegorical fingerprint of the workingman’s psychological plight in a 1960s Japanese metropolis. Viscerally imagined and suspensefully executed, the narrative momentum is at once effortless and horrifying. The desert sand both gives life and takes it, inspires toil and recreation, attracts and aggravates. Teshigahara’s finely crafted spaces, through kettles, umbrellas, and bugs, more than earn his metteur en scène credit. The film is certainly a sexist one, though, illuminating the villainous mechanics of a societal contraption whose fuel mixture contains, graciously speaking, trace amounts of complicit womanhood. Still, it’s an emergent machine that doesn’t bandy about ill conceived root causes, and that makes the time spent examining it worthwhile.
- Woman in the Dunes (Teshigahara 1964) @ VIZ Cinema