Woman in the Dunes

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Hiroshi Teshigahara

REVIEWED: 12-08-97

Re-released in a restored new print, Hiroshi Teshigahara's fable remains as mystifying, serene, and provoking as when it was released in 1964. An amateur entomologist strolls over rolling dunes, his footprints tracing marks like calligraphy across the shifting blankness. He comes to rest in a boat sunken in the sand, where villagers tell him he has missed his bus and must take lodgings. They bring him to a woman whose house lies at the bottom of a deep pit accessible only by a rope ladder.

The next morning the ladder is gone; he's a prisoner. He learns that he must help the woman in her nightly labor of shoveling away the sand that threatens to bury them. At first he tries to escape, and the walls crumble beneath him. Rebellion, rage, and despair give way to a kind of existential triumph.

Minimal though the setting and the situation may be, the story unfolds with frequent surprises and epiphanies -- Teshigahara's imagery of the patterns and texture of sand, water, and sky touch on the ineffable, and the allegory unfolds with startling and satisfying resolutions. Mixing Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus with Sartre's No Exit and not a little of the earthy absurdity of Beckett's Happy Days, Woman shimmers with an ethereal radiance of its own, teaching in the end that it is futile to try to escape to the desert without before finding water in the desert within.

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