November 19-21

Woman in the Dunes/Judith Stanoff


1. I’m interested in the roles of insider/outsider / colonized/colonizer in the film. In the beginning of the film, it is class that differentiates Junpei and the young widow. The researcher is there for work, looking for a new species of bug so that he can get his name published. He talks about his love for authentic “local” cuisine and questions everything she tells him about the dangers of sand ruining homes. She tells him about the bugs that make holes in roofs, but instead of taking her insider knowledge, he corrects her and explains what the bugs were. Yet the next morning when he tries to leave, he learns that he has now become a captive, forced to live with the woman and help her in her task to shovel sand. Even after becoming captive, he tries to take the woman hostage, but is forced to release her in order to receive his supply of water from the villagers. In this oppressive structure, Junpei becomes both the oppressed and the oppressor. In what ways does Junpei’s story mirror Japanese political history as both colonized/colonizer? Does the colonized/colonizer position have anything to do with Junpei’s psyche?

2.  I actually wrote a short essay regarding Woman in the Dunes for a Japanese Film class I took during my freshman year. I will attach it below, but my question would be, is my reading of the film accurate in your opinion? I know I didn’t watch it in the context of the Global 60s topic, but would my interpretation still relate to that time period and feeling of disenfranchisement from mainstream social by many people during this era? My short essay is below:

Woman in the Dunes Response Essay
A film as complex and layered as Woman in the Dunes (Teshigahara, 1964) is difficult to simplify it down to either concluding positively or negatively. Although one would be hard-pressed to consider the ending of this film a “happy ending,” I believe that the conclusion is “positive,” at least in the loosest sense of the word. When I mean “positive,” I do not mean “ideal.” This movie does not deal with “the ideal.” In fact it does not want to go near “the ideal” at all. Instead it wants to focus on what drives the human soul, what feeds our motivation and sense of purpose. Even though the main character is trapped in a sandpit and forced into a kind of slavery in which he must endlessly shovel sand to survive, the ending of the movie left me under the impression that he had reached a state of equilibrium.
In order to see his progress or “spiritual growth” as mentioned in Ehrlich’s criticism of the film, we must start with the beginning, which consists of a list of all the statistics and papers that form this man’s identity. The voice narrating this list gives the viewer the impression that these forms of identification are meaningless and without foundation, posing the question: does all this really define who I am? The man obviously feels like these credentials do not define him or rather he feels like he is more than just a manila folder in a file cabinet. However, this is how the world he comes from defines him. When he is forced into the world of the dunes, none of these forms of identification matter; he must form a new sense of identity on his own.
The viewer should see his discontent with how he was seen by society contrasted with his final acceptance of his life in the dunes as progress. In a way, the film makes both life in the city and life in the dunes very similar: one must perform menial tasks to survive, and one is trapped to fill the role and the identity society gives them. The difference is that, by the end of the film, the man feels no need to escape from his sandpit as he felt he needed to escape the city on his 3-day vacation. He finds spiritual balance in the dunes as well as a new passion and purpose by means of the pump, which is far more than he could claim during his life in the city. Therefore, the film ends on a positive note of spiritual growth and true identity.3.  Judith Shatnoff concludes that Woman in the Dunes “is a monumental effort to reconcile science with philosophy” (45).  She argues that there is nostalgia of simplicity and tradition that conflict with the introduction and obsession with (Western) science that is impossible to reconcile.  What this makes me think about is human beings’ tendency to fetishize the past. It makes me wonder- was the past really all that great? Do we reconstruct the past through a rosy lens to critique/demonize the present?

4.  When Judith Shatnoff concludes that, “simplicity is impossible,” she echoes Robert Venturi’s critique in “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture”.  How can we incorporate what we have learned about the architecture movements in Tokyo in the 60s to compare and relate to Japanese cinema in the 60s?

5.  What is the significance of sand in the film Woman in the Dunes? Is there a metaphor here? What techniques and film styles does the director use to make the mundane, such as sand, so captivating and mesmerizing?


Third Cinema

1.  Who were Solanas and Getino? Where do they come from and when was this essay written? This article appears to have a very strong argument against colonialism, capitalism and even communism. How do these authors experiences shape their strong beliefs? Would they view Alea and Sembene’s work to be revolutionary and against neocolonialism or would they consider it to be part of the desensitization?

2.  How exactly were perceived the issues of race and gender preferences in the film industry by the people, the audience ? were there social movements at the same time in Cuba to highlight the issues of race and gender outside of the intellectual spheres ?

3.  According to Solanas and Getino, “real alternatives differing from those offered by the System are only possible if one of two requirements is fulfilled: making films that the System cannot assimilate and which are foreign to its needs, or making films that directly and explicitly set out to fight the System… they can be found in the revolutionary opening towards a cinema outside and against the System, in a cinema of liberation: the third cinema”. My question is, what is the difference between these two requirements? Based on the films that we have seen, aren’t films that are ‘foreign to the System’s needs’ simply a critique to the System?

4.  Fernando Solans and Octavio Getino claim, “Mass communications tend to complete destruction of a national awareness and of a collective subjectivity on the way to enlightenment,” but how would one raise a national awareness without mass communications?  How does one find out about third cinema without mass communications?  How do people reimagine themselves as a nation without mass communication?

5.  Solanas and Getino write about “A Third Cinema” = “The first alternative to this type of cinema, which we could call the first cinema, arose with the so-called ‘author’s cinema,’ ‘expression cinema,’ ‘nouvelle vague,’ ‘cinema novo,’  How are we able to see the films we have watched in class as “third cinema”, if at all, or as revolutionary? Or feminist? I think it is particularly interesting when reading the Solanas and Getino piece on Third Cinema, as he did not mention the words: gender, women, woman, girl, female, she, her. Everything was referred to with male pronouns. This piece is extremely phallocentric, whilst challenging the logocentric form of writing. Are Solanas and being class reductionist, and missing what Patricia Hill Collins would call “the matrix of domination?”

6.  Solanas and Getino are grappling with the idea that first comes knowledge, then we can change things. For example, first comes science, then comes politics. That without empirical evidence, without proof, without interpretation of the world, we cannot start to change it. This is what historically has kept people docile and not taking the streets. We must study at private elite colleges first, contribute to capitalism, play in the game a little, and then when you’re an “expert”, you can start to change it. Solanas and Getino is asking for something more complex, more circular. They quotes Marx “it is not sufficient to interpret the world; it is now a question of transforming it.” They argues that we discover through transformation, that is what is truly revolutionary, that is what “third cinema” is.

7. How can we see the film as an avant garde film, as a process of decolonization, when comparing it to the other films we have seen and named as “revolutionary cinema”? Specifically when thinking about the male (dominant) gaze and how women are portrayed in the films we have seen. Would these be classified as third cinema? They claimed that “third cinema” is no longer just a consumer good, how does it complicate things when we think about how the film is consumed through a male gaze.



1.  Were artists in Japan ever considered to be nonpori? Why was there a distinction between the nonpori and the student/ippangakusei? Were students ever present in the creation of art during this time? Did artists ever deal with this use of violence and student protests or was their art primarily for a separate purpose?

2.  Why did they target women in particular at Ampo in the early 1960s? Has specifically targeting women in a similar context happened elsewhere? To what extent did the cultural norms in Japan at the time facilitate this type of action?

3.  What exactly is the historical role of the Emperor in Japan and how did that change throughout the course of the 1960s?

4.  During William Marotti’s lecture he mentioned that the state felt it was their duty to maintain “social hygiene” in Japan. How does one decide what constitutes “social hygiene?” Does this view tend to be fairly consistent cross-culturally?

5.  Regarding the Japanese avant-garde art pieces discussed by Professor Marotti, how much of the art’s impact was due to the fact that it was performed/exhibited in Japanese society? Would the effects of the same exhibits have been different in other cities during the 60s? How much of the impact of this art depended on the fact that it was aimed at a post-war, rapidly developing, globalizing, westernizing Japan?

Contributors: Gregg Butler, Elizabeth Foody, Caroline Goodwin, Stewart Hoffman, Aurore Jacques, Kristina Johansson, HiMi Kanumi, Joyce Ma.

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