Horrors await us if we miss the boat back to civilisation. Supposing we are abandoned to nature, how we adapt may prove life-threatening. It does for the protagonist of Woman in the Dunes. He misses the chance to return to civilization, something that would haunt him and the very fabric of this piece from Hiroshi Teshigahara. Such an innocuous mistake leads to a complete disassociation from reality. From a technical perspective, Woman in the Dunes is a masterclass, engaging with gorgeous cinematography with such ease and passion. It is hard to sift through it all when so much of it looks impeccable.
Teshigahara spins an incredible piece of film, one that has such pride in its craftsmanship. Achingly good choreography filters through the film with such passion and ease. Extreme close-ups of sand and bugs, wide shots of empty landscapes as a man pushes forth to finish his work. The poetry of the camera and its movement is explored so well. Every shot says something to the audience. Slight, normal decisions this character takes are met with high-pitched whines of terror from the soundtrack. It is a warning Niki Jumpei (Eiji Okada) cannot hear. As Jumpei accidentally imposes on this group of villagers, something is clearly awry. Okada is exceptional in his role here, a cautious explorer that knows he is intruding on different lives to his.
His cautious way of living is simply too little, too late. He is a man that does not see the danger before him, despite being head over heels for it all. His new way of life is a break from the one set out for him, and there is an immediate desire to adapt and access this breath of fresh air. Who can blame him? We all desire escape from time to time, but Woman in the Dunes details the severe risk associated with such a leap to freedom. It is not just through action and setting that we see this but through dialogue and the methodical love between an aimless man and a young widow. Idealism is not all it seems, as Woman in the Dunes would set out to display, but it is the dialogue that convinces us of such a relationship, and the direction that makes it so passionate and hopeful, yet equally doomed and terrifying.
Those moments where Jumpei clambers down the ladder, with extreme close-ups from Teshigahara display a sense that not only is Jumpei imposing, but that he is in a whole new world. He is there to fact find, essentially, and the devolution into lust and living is displayed with perfection. Anxiety and trepidation, shown with a slow surge of terror as Jumpei eventually accepts his fate. Woman in the Dunes provides an incredible moment for the Japanese New Wave, detailing a story that feels poetically justified and thematically rich. As much a tale of loss as it is an acceptance of new and uncomfortable surroundings. We should not make peace with what we do not like unless we have no choice. Jumpei has a choice. He seeks it out, and just look what happens to him.