At times like this, I regret my decision to call this series ‘The Sound of Trash’. It’s pragmatically myopic but, on occasions where the film in question is a good as ‘Women in the Dunes’, a certain level of guilt is attached. Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 masterpiece, ‘The Woman in the Dunes’, even after all these years has the capacity to unnerve unlike anything else. The premise of this movie is pure existential dread:

An entomologist, Jumpei Niki (played in the film by Eiji Okada), is on an expedition to collect insects which inhabit sand dunes. When he misses the last bus, villagers suggest he stay the night. They guide him down a rope ladder to a house in a sand quarry where a young widow (Kyoko Kishida) lives alone. She is employed by the villagers to dig sand for sale and to save the house from burial in the advancing sand.

The film follows the hopeless plight of this stranded woman who dedicates her life to desperately stopping the endless of onslaught of encroaching sand. The film, in it’s unwavering beauty, is somehow all the more terrifying as we slowly become immersed in this woman’s torturous world. Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu’s intense score is one of the most stunning ever written, capable of conveying the strange beauty and abject horror of the storyline perfectly. Takemitsu’s reputation spread throughout over 100 film scores, picking up numerous prestigious awards long the way. Unashamedly influenced by both traditional Japanese music as well as the avant garde, Takemitsu’s score for ‘The Woman in the Dunes’ is a marriage of recognised classical forms and pure abstraction.

The track I am sharing with you today has unmistakable overtones of Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki’s work. But beyond this obvious comparison is a sense of space typical to traditional Japanese musical forms. Whatever influences find their way into this piece, it remains unmistakably ‘Japanese’, and is executed to devastating perfection. Tortured high-pitched strings wail and drone, rising and falling, creating a skyline in which the lower register dances alongside. The sound is at once melancholy and disquieting. When the droning sounds give way to out bursts of atonal strings, we are transported into the broken mind of this wretched woman trapped in the dunes.

Please enjoy Toru Takemitsu’s theme to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s ‘The Woman in the Dunes’. If you’ve never seen this film, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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