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FILM : A Sensuous World Built on Shifting Sand 'Dunes'

August 23, 1990|MARK CHALON SMITH

In "Woman in the Dunes," director Hiroshi Teshigahara creates an eerily sensuous world, a stifling but beautiful environment where sand threatens to engulf everything.

His cinematographer, Hiroshi Segawa, gave this 1964 Japanese classic a poetic look based on surreal close-ups and romanticized sweeps over a dramatic landscape. Segawa's black-and-white shots of the dunes contrast with the few people that inhabit this desolation--the camera lingers on the nude body of Kyoko Kishida, and her loveliness is echoed by the deceptively elegant surroundings Segawa settles on later.

"Woman in the Dunes" (screening at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center on Friday, Aug. 24) is a deceptive movie throughout. Part existential art film--a good example of the experimentation that marked an influential segment of Japanese filmmaking in the '60s--and part psychological thriller, it follows the developing relationship between an entomologist (Eiji Okada) and the young woman (Kishida) who traps him.

She keeps this introspective scientist in a tomblike shack at the bottom of a pit, using him as a laborer and lover. She's the sand beetle and he's the insect that can't escape--one of the film's striking images finds Okada trying to climb out but, like a snared ant or a hapless Sisyphus, he can't overcome the moving sand.

The feelings that grow between captor and captive, and their eventual passion, gives "Woman in the Dunes" its intrigue. Both Okada and Kishida avoid actorly indulgences, helping to keep the aura otherworldly and simple to the point of primitive. It's a style that's right in line with the movie's feel.

Over the movie's two hours, tension sometimes slackens and the view can be too dense, the result of a focus that never retreats far from the dunes' pressing quality. But Teshigahara's probing direction and Segawa's camera work often render the mundane startling and new, a claim that only good films can make.

What: "Woman in the Dunes."

When: Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Take the 91 Freeway to Euclid, head north to Malvern, then go west.

Wherewithal: $5 and $6.

Where to Call: (714) 738-6595.

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