Blu-ray Review: Criterion's WOMAN IN THE DUNES
The Criterion Collection have just released 1964's Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna), which was --- and is --- heralded as one of the art house films of the 1960s. As a result, Teshigahara earn an Academy Award nomination for best director. A ton has been written on this film by film scholars far more knowledgable than I, so I'll stick to the basics here.
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, Woman in the Dunes stars Eiji Okada as a teacher and amateur entomologist from Tokyo who gets trapped at the bottom of sand dune. He's on the hunt to find and classify a rare beetle, but the last bus out leaves him stranded.The man finds a place to stay for the night, but unbeknown to him, his sojourn is about to last quite awhile.
What ensues is the man's struggle to escape his sandy prison, as well as a battle of wills between his arrogance and desire to leave and the woman's subservience and her desire to keep him there. His escape becomes an exercise in pointlessness, mirroring the struggles of existence for many.
His host comes in the form of Kyoko Kishida. who plays a widow whose sole purpose is to dig her small, decaying home out of the sand each day so it doesn't collapse and create a domino effect to demolish the other nearby homes. This salty sand goes up for sale for use in building foundations; the fact that the widow has no issue with this reveals that she's not quite playing with a full deck of empathy cards. (Of course, in terms of character dynamics and storytelling, this pales in consideration to the man being kept hostage by her and the villagers who remain above.)
At 147 minutes combined with the slow plot, Woman in the Dunes is quite a lengthy film; for modern audiences, this may detract from enjoyment. However, students of serious cinema as well as academics should find plenty to keep their attention. Likewise, they'll enjoy the extras, which include four of Teshigahara's short films, a quality booklet containing an essay and interview snippet with Teshigahara, an enlightening doc on the collaboration between Teshigahara and his screenwriter Kobo Abe, and an academic doc on Woman in the Dunes itself.
These extras appear to be identical to Criterion's previous out-of-print DVD release. The original aspect ratio of 1:33:1 is presented via a high-definition scan and remastered soundtrack. Contracts are beautiful and while there's some flickering here and there, the picture looks great. Overall, highly recommended for serious cinephiles.
The disc features:
- New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Video essay on the film from 2007 by film scholar James Quandt
- Four short films from director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s early career: Hokusai (1953), Ikebana (1956), Tokyo 1958 (1958), and Ako (1965)
- Teshigahara and Abe, a 2007 documentary examining the collaboration between Teshigahara and novelist Kobo Abe, featuring interviews with film scholars Donald Richie and Tadao Sato, film programmer Richard Peña, set designer Arata Isozaki, producer Noriko Nomura, and screenwriter John Nathan
- Booklet essay by film scholar Audie Bock and a 1978 interview with Teshigahara