The film is about an insect-collecting man who is trying to find relaxation in the sand dunes far away from Tokyo. He misses his last bus back, but some villagers tell him that he can stay in a house that is down in a pit basically. He agrees, and climbs down the rope ladder into the pit. A widow lives there by herself, but she is young. During the night, the man notices that she is shoveling the sand. When he tries to leave in the morning, the rope ladder is gone. He is trapped. The woman tells him that they have to shovel the sand (it is pulled up by ropes to the villagers at night, who sell it, under the table, to be used in construction, since it's too salty, technically, for construction). If they don't, their house will become buried in sand. And the house next to theirs will then be in danger. He tries refusing to work, and tries to escape, but he is always returned to the pit. He becomes the widow's lover, but he still wants to leave, badly.
There is nothing really that makes sense here. It's never explained why the woman was down in the pit, or why there is such a great need to sell sand. It doesn't matter so much and since the movie is a parable, it doesn't really need to. It's an interesting film - I almost couldn't decide if it was just meant to be a strange nightmare, or a statement on how people cope with oppression. I think it's more of a statement, but a bleak one. I was really interested in how the characters were going to cope with their situation, and their relationship to each other was strange but fascinating to watch.
Ebert writes a lot about how wonderfully the sand is filmed. It is nice, but I guess I just can't really feel that as strongly as he does. I mean, it's amazing, it's like a character in the film, and it looks very realistic. I love how you can see it coating the skin of the characters. It's just hard to imagine me saying "This movie has the best filmed sand ever!" and people reading my blog immediately adding this movie to their Netflix queue. "SAND?! Why, I've got to see that!" The sand is cool, but the weird, nightmarish and slow story is better (for me, at least).
The movie reminded me a bit of another film I really love - Bug, which came out a few years ago. It's sort of a similar plot - two people who are isolated from the world. In Bug, the two characters barricade themselves in their motel apartment, believing they are infested with insects, and in Woman in the Dunes, two people are trapped in a pit shoveling sand, forever. I know it's a stretch, but the two films really focus on the strange things that happen when people are isolated like that, and how weird relationships can become. I sort of like movies where there are very few characters, and very little plot, and very little space for them. They seem to always tell really interesting stories, despite how boring they might sound in theory.
I think this is for sure a strange movie, but it's worth checking out if you like strange things. I love that it has a clear meaning even though it's bizarre. I really liked watching the two characters, and seeing how they both dealt with their odd situation. Also, it's worth renting if you are really into good-looking sand photography. :)
Have any of you seen Woman in the Dunes? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Woman in the Dunes