Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Recently I have been trying to improve my knowledge of Japanese cinema, as my time with it in the past has been unfortunately limited. I am currently enrolled in a fascinating Intro to Japanese Cinema class, and blogs like Cinebeats have certainly given me a lot of great starting points.
I've seen several startling films in the past few months, but none have affected me as much as Hiroshi Teshigahara's mesmerizing 1964 film WOMAN IN THE DUNES.
Yesterday while watching Criterion's stunning new print of the film in class, I really regretted not having seen this when I was younger as I could have spent years with it by now.
For those who haven't seen the film, it is taken from Kobo Abe's haunting novel concerning a man who is trapped in a dune with a mysterious beautiful young widow who lives in a collapsing house there.
I found the film to be emotionally near overwhelming, and wasn't bothered at all by its long running time and deliberately slow methodical nature. I actually relished it and it made me regret that more modern films don't have the guts to take their time in telling their story. Watching WOMAN IN THE DUNES reminded me of the way I felt when I was a teenager discovering films like RED DESERT and LE MEPRIS, and getting that incredible rush that only the greatest art can give a person.
Criterion's print of the film is gorgeous, and I am glad that I got to see the film for the first time in this condition. The sound of the disc is also exceptional, with the innovative score by Toru Takemitsu sounding positively chilling.
There was frankly so much that I was floored by in the film, that I don't even know where to begin. From the poetic opening moments following Eiji Okada's entomologist around as he collects and traps rare bugs(an opening that reminded me very much stylistically of Antonioni's later THE PASSENGER), to the haunting face and performance of Kyoko Kishida as the lonely title character.
Hiroshi Teshigahara's compositional style is sublime, with special mention going to the many shots of the flowing sand that are positively awe inspiring. His use of the close up and filming the sand covered bodies of his two leads is also particularly moving. I frankly can't wait to watch more films from this director who Kimberly from Cinebeats wrote so eloquently about here.
The film is also bracingly erotic, and outside of the work of Walerian Borowczyk, it is hard to think of a director who has shot the human body with such care and passion. There is more heart and soul in a single frame of this film than the entire running time of most films passing for cinema these days.
Even on my first viewing I could see how massively influential this film has been, with the likes of late period Antonioni, Wim Wenders, Peter Weir and Nicolas Roeg crossing my mind regularly during the screening. Roeg in particular kept coming to my thoughts although right now I can't specify completely as to why. Perhaps the obsessive relationships in a film like BAD TIMING is what I was thinking on, but for the most part it was just the general mood that WOMAN IN THE DUNES generated that reminded me of the directors it most surely influenced.
WOMAN IN THE DUNES is the most thrilling experience I have had in a while with a film. Walking home from class last night in the unseasonably cold crisp air, I felt positively invigorated. After just one viewing I can safely say that Teshigahara's work is one of the best films I have ever seen, I can only imagine that it will only get better with repeated looks. I can't wait to visit this strange and isolated place again.