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.