Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chat: Suna No Onna/Woman in the Dunes

Natalie:  How gritty dirty did this movie make you feel?
Tracy:  I kept thinking I was watching the Japanese version of the video for "Wicked Game"!
Natalie:  Me, too! Except "Wicked Game" is way hotter.
Tracy:  WAY hotter.
me:  I'm going to have to do a Youtube search
Tracy:  I did find this a lot more compelling and entertaining than most "avant garde" movies, though. It reminded me of "Wicker Man," except good.
Natalie:  Yes! I was surprised how engaging it was because it was so simple but long. It managed to sustain itself though. And, the question was honest--the movie made me feel sandy and closed-in. Netflix described it as a "provocatively erotic allegorical film" but I think I'd classify it as a psychological thriller.
Tracy:  I agree--it did a great job of making me feel claustrophobic and itchy, but not in a way that made me want to turn the movie off. I felt frustrated for the characters rather than at the movie, if that makes sense. I saw the "erotic allegory" thing as well, and couldn't for the life of me guess what the allegory would be. Watching him devolve from a middle-class "bug expert" to someone willing to rape a woman in order to look at the sea for 10 minutes to someone who won't run when given the opportunity was pretty chilling.
Natalie:  That makes complete sense. I could understand their frustration because I was frustrated, too. But I didn't think they were acting in a frustrating way given the situation. I don't know about the "erotic allegory" and neither does the book, since we're talking about that. The book says the film "“strikes an unusual balance between realism and metaphor” and then argues: “Part neofeminist exercise, part political treatise, part survival tale, Woman in the Dunes adds up to both more and less than its premise. Okada can’t escape the pit without inviting disaster, but why build a home in a sandpit in the first place? Kishida offers sexual rewards for Okada’s labor, but how much of this is just her method of staving off lonliness? Does Woman in the Dunes mock domesticity, praise it, or depict is as a Sisiphisian horror?” I'm not sure about any of that because I don't agree with the depiction of Kishida. I don't see the sex as a "reward;" she seems actually interested in him sexually separate from the work or her need for a male in the household. Also, do you see how it's neofeminist?
And, the book once again seems to miss part of the film in that the house was built in a sandpit in order to require work so they can sell the sand for half price. The village is exploiting its residents.
Tracy:  Oh, Lord. The book strikes again. First of all, if we accept the premise that Kishida is "rewarding" Okada with sex, then there is no way it can be neofeminist (and neo? wtf?). But, I agree with you--she's not prostituting herself, she's actually connecting with him--sure, it's a bit distorted because of their imprisoned situation, but she's not trying to bribe him with sex. And I think it's completely wrongheaded to equate it with a parable about domesticity. Again, like you point out, it's about exploitation. They entrap their workers, and make their survival contingent on their labor. If anything, it's a political allegory. And what makes it so scary, is how they both ultimately buy into the system. Kishida thinks the only way she (as a woman, but really as a worker) "matters" is by continuing to box up the sand (which is going to kill people through shoddy workmanship), and they get Okada, like the crow he is trying to trap, by distracting him with something shiny--a pump. I kept thinking of his bugs--formulated, sprawling on a pin. It's about power for me, not domesticity.
Natalie:  That makes more sense. I just couldn't wrap my head around how any of it was feminist. And I think he connects with her despite his protestations. He protects her (which is basically what leads to the sex, not his work), offers her his bug box to keep her beads, and seems genuinely worried when she falls ill. What derails that slightly is the odd scene in which she's taken away. He doesn't leave the house so I guess we can argue that he's waiting for her. But we don't see how dire or not her health is. And he doesn't seem to react to the fact that she's pregnant. But, I had to keep reminding myself that we're looking into a very different culture. I think it's a political allegory the way you describe and a commentary on class systems, Kishida can't imagine what she'd do in Tokyo and scoffs at Okada's "walk around" answer. Yay! Prufrock!
Tracy:  Yeah, I think the inherent messed-up-ness of the situation makes any of their connections pretty, well, messed up. Can you imagine raising a child in the pit? Which is what I guess she did with her first family. Speaking of different classes and privileges, what did you make of the bizarre-o mask/drum scene? That's what really reminded me of Wicker Man.
Natalie:  I can't imagine raising a child in a "real" house but, no, I can't imagine how you'd raise a child in a sand dune. There seem to be some serious risks what with sand being heavy in a pile but easily moved by the wind. I was constantly amazed that there was actually a house there. Oh! That IS Wicker Man-esque. It really intensified the scene. As did all of the music really. I wouldn't want the soundtrack but it worked to amp up whatever mood was needed for a scene. The drums were Taiko drums (I'm fairly certain) and most Taiko performances run on a particular structure: "beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent, and emergency" (thank you, Wikipedia) which really fits the idea of the attempted rape scene in a spooky way. Those drums are really intense in person--the kind that make your heartbeat feel like it's changing--and they were used in war to motivate troops historically.
Tracy:  Hah! Me either. I would totally lose the child in the sand dune and not realize it. Like, for days. That is interesting about the drums--it really freaked me out. So are we both saying Aye to this being in the 1001?
Natalie:  HA! What? I thought YOU were watching Sally? It's a freaky scene. And, that reminds me, I liked the way the Japanese cultural elements were used but the film doesn't feel entirely foreign if that makes sense. Yes! I'm saying Aye!
Tracy:  Hee. Sally would be a goner. Yes--it felt like a story that both could have taken place anywhere, but also couldn't have worked as well without the cultural elements. The Ayes have it!
Natalie:  Hooray!
Up next, Alec Guinness being everyone in the movie!
Tracy:  Oh, right! that should be a thing.

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