“Woman in the Dunes” Screened at the Barbican on May 14th

The Barbican are running an exhibition about Japanese homes and domestic architecture called The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945. It began on March 23rd and lasts until June 25th. As part of the exhibition there will be films screened. The first film in this exhibition is:

Woman in the Dunes   Woman in the Dunes Film Poster

砂の女Suna no Onna

Release Date: February 15th, 1964

Running Time: 124 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara

Writer: Eiko Yoshida, Kobo Abe (Screenplay), Kobo Abe (Original Novel),

Starring: Eiji Okada, Kyoko Kishida, Hiroko Ito, Koji Mitsui, Sen Yano, Ginzo Sekiguchi,


Director Hiroshi Teshigahara is a filmmaker a lot of people interested in Japanese cinema will be aware of. He was the son of Sofu Teshigahara, founder and grand master of the Sogetsu School of ikebana, and he followed in his father’s footsteps to become grand master himself. Despite these responsibilities he was also a filmmaker of reknown. He graduated in 1950 from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and began working in documentary film, some of them covering ikebana. He is best known for his three films, Pitfall (1962), Woman in the Dunes (1964), and The Face of Another (1966). The three were released alongside a collection of short films on a now out of print box set by Criterion. Other than that, fans in the UK will have to buy other OOP DVDs to see his films.

Woman in the Dunes is probably his most famous film. Adapted by Kobo Abe from his existential novel, “this nightmarish film is set almost entirely inside and on the threshold of a single ramshackle wooden house that is at once prison and vital shelter.” That last bit was taken from the Barbican’s site and effectively sums up the film. Here’s the trailer and synopsis…


An amateur entomologist arrives in a remote area of sand dunes with hopes of identifying an unclassified species of beetle. Night falls and the villagers offer him shelter in a hut at the bottom of a sand pit. Descent is possible only by means of a rope ladder; when he wakes, it is gone. His attempts to climb out repeatedly fail, and he comes to realise – first with incredulity, then outrage, then fear – that he must join his host in her Sisyphean nightly chore of shovelling away the sand that accumulates each day before it overwhelms the house… and themselves.

Director Hiroshi Teshigahara heightens this claustrophobic premise with an eerily dissonant soundtrack by Toru Takemitsu, and high contrast black-and-white photography which alternately scorches us under a blazing sun or engulfs us in a terrible darkness, with added skin-pricklingly intense close-ups of sand pouring into the house and sticking to our two sweaty captives.

The Japan Foundation are working with the Barbican Centre to make this exhibition come to life and they ran a talk about Toru Takemitsu back in January so anybody intrigued by what they heard there will be able to see this film and listen to the man’s compositions in an ideal space.

Woman in the Dunes Film Image

2 thoughts on ““Woman in the Dunes” Screened at the Barbican on May 14th

  1. Yes good movie.
    It might not have been all that bad being trapped with that nice (willing) lady. Of course the hard labor every day would take a lot of the fun out of it.

    She is a young lady in the film, but another blogger told me that in the novel, she is always referred to as “the old woman”.

    1. Haha, exchanging freedom for suffocating companionship doesn’t sound so bad when the other person is “nice.” I’d wager that it would get tiresome especially with all that sand, haha.

      I haven’t read the novel but I do have Teshigahara’s other films.

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