“Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. As the term is used by geologists, sand particles range in diameter from 0.0625 (or 1⁄16 mm) to 2 millimetres. An individual particle in this range size is termed a sand grain. The next smaller size class in geology is silt: particles smaller than 0.0625 mm down to 0.004 mm in diameter. The next larger size class above sand is gravel, with particles ranging from 2 mm up to 64 mm (see particle size for standards in use). Sand feels gritty when rubbed between the fingers (silt, by comparison, feels like flour)…..” From Wikipedia
This is the technical definition of sand, made of and used by geologists, e.g. scientists. But what is actually sand? And what does it actually feels like?
Woman in the Dunes is a 1964 film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, based on Kobo Abe’s 1962 novel, and it is a film that uses sand as a means to explore human beings, their nature, their desires and actions and, finally, their fate.
Niki Junpei is an amateur entomologist who is trapped, like one of his specimens, in a bizarre, surrealist situation. Junpei, being on an expedition to collect insects in an area of sand dunes, is trapped by some local villagers at the bottom of a sandpit, along with the young widow living there. His and the woman’s task is to endlessly shovel sand. In exchange, they are provided by the villagers with food and water.
Every night the sand is shovelled away, and every morning is inevitably re-deposited again; the monotonous (and meaningless) task is repeated again and again, night after night, without any sign that this will somehow of sometime end.
The woman, totally surrendered to her fate, accepts this situation as it is; for her, this is how things are, and they could not be different. Jumpei, instead, unable to find a meaning in all this, rebels against his Sisyphean fate, and tries in several ways to escape it, with no success. When at last he actually has the opportunity to escape, he chooses to stay in his captivity, having found a meaning (or believing he does so) into this situation; partly due to the fact that the woman is pregnant to his child, and partly because he has started working on a mechanism to pump water from the sand (and by this way giving a meaning to it).
In Teshigahara’s film sand is the mean, the instrument. Sand is the boundary and the limit, but it is also the guarantor of sustaining life, it is thus equally the precondition, the purpose and the target, even being (or maybe exactly because it is such) a meaningless one. Slipping like water and continuously changing its form, sand becomes the symbol of the world and of time, a time that is eternal and inescapable, time in which the human fate is created, and at the same time sand turns almost into a character of the film, having its own life; it is the character that governs human existence, like a (physical) god. Towards this god, which like sand particles is tiny, elementary but also huge in its wholeness, the human being, small against the world like a small insect, reveals the core of its existence; the desire for life, which is expressed in its most fundamental elements throught lust for sex and food, and the desire for freedom.
“Are you living to shovel, or shoveling to live?”; this is the question that the entomologist poses to the woman, and to all of us.
Woman in the Dunes is one of cinema’s masterpieces; surrealistic, deeply philosophical, aesthetically bizarre and highly erotic (it contains, in my opinion, some of the most erotic scenes ever filmed), is a film that someone worth to see.
With a small search, you can easily find and download the film, with English subtitles, through torrents (check out the Pirate Bay).
The film’s music is composed by Toru Takemitsu.
With this opportunity, check out the following post with Takemitsu’s "In an Autumn Garden" (it is NOT the film’s music).