Hiroshi Teshigahara's The Woman in the Dunes which won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is one of the most haunting and beautifully shot parables on the themes of human nature, identity and civilized life. The story is about a man named Junpei Niki who is a teacher and entomologist off on an expedition to collect several insects that inhabit several of the sand dunes in the desert. When he misses his bus to the nearest town, he is then tricked by a villager to be lowered into one of the dunes for shelter for the night. Early the next morning, Niki comes to realize he is now a slave to the villagers and along with a widow who has lived within the dunes for several years now, is forced to dig sand for profit and also to save the house from being buried in the advancing sand storms.
Woman in the Dunes is one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever witnessed and the hypnotic power of its visuals sucks the viewer inside its seductive story. It's abstract tangible shots of textures, sand, insects, skin and water that seeps into the sand to give it shapes and create new forms, gives the dunes a haunting life of its own. The film's themes of isolation, identity adaptions, and psycho-sexual imagery of hostility, forced labor, and bondage are only some of the powerful metaphors within the exterior of the story, in which these two characters every day are forced to work, eat, sleep and have sex; like uncivilized animals. The teacher and the woman are both slaves to the villagers and yet the woman accepts her fate while the teacher struggles and tries his best to escape from it so he can return to normal civilized society. The underlying themes within Woman in the Dunes are extremely erotic and have slightly pornographic undercurrents as Niki is forcefully trapped by this woman who in return offers her body at the price of lifelong servitude.