Hiroshi Teshigahara, rushing through styles: "Stand still like a telephone pole and a dog will piss on you." It starts in the darkness and moves toward marshes and grassy craters, the landscape (hills like piles of excavated dirt) is punctuated by the occasional power lane. Every Kafka needs his patsy, here it’s a poor miner (Hisashi Igawa) on the run with his son (Kazuo Miyahara) while a stranger in white suit, hat and gloves (Kunie Tanaka) snaps photos in the distance. They converge at a deserted town, where a first-rate shot of the candy-store proprietress (Sumie Sasaki) using chopsticks to pluck ants from a plate of food into a bowl of water shows that Woman in the Dunes is already formed in Teshigahara’s mind. Still, the director’s purpose is quite different, namely erecting a taciturn satire of traditional Japanese ghost yarns in the middle of a critique of capitalist manipulation and exploitation. The photographer stabs the miner, whose spirit arises via reverse-motion (Le Sang d’un Poète), ponders his own corpse, and stumbles around for answers ("The more you learn, the worse it will be," a fellow specter warns). The dead man turns out to be a ringer for the Old Pit boss, who clashes with the New Pit boss (Sen Yano); suspicion annihilates the two union leaders, the industrial scheme goes "exactly as planned," the proprietress ultimately joins the miner in impotently screaming accusations at their murderer. The source is a play by Kobo Abe, though Teshigahara’s wide-swinging yet precise visual vocabulary jolts any hint of staginess into strange cinematic life -- the central metaphor of an empty street suddenly peopled with powerless phantoms is an occasion for lighting filters, sound layering and the driest absurdism ("Being invisible might have been useful when I was alive, but this is unbearable"). A thoroughly modern vision: Left among the bodies, the boy stuffs his pockets with candy and vanishes into a desolate, curving tableau. With Hideo Kanze, Kei Sato, and Kanichi Omiya. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce