Thursday, May 12, 2016

Woman in the Dunes (Takemitsu, 1964)

     One of Japan's most fascinating film (and concert) composers was Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), whose stylistic palette was immensely broad, yet at the same time somehow very individualistic.  Takemitsu wrote for every type of ensemble imaginable, but in Hiroshi Teshigahara's film, "Woman in the Dunes" (砂の女, Suna no Onna, "Sand woman"), he uses a small chamber group sound to evoke the ancient heartbeat of a cruel desert.  The film is somewhat hard to describe, but it's essentially about a man who has been trapped by villagers into helping a woman scoop out sand from around her house.  He cannot escape because the woman's house is in a sand pit and the sand is unclimbable.  The man and woman develop a relationship.  In a way, the story is both Twilight Zone-ish and Kafka-esque, and and has been interpreted in many different ways (however it does have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!).

     Musically, only about 15-20 minutes of score is heard in this 2 and a half hour study in forced domestic captivity.  The music is basically ambient, in that it features long held textures (string drones) broken by brief moments of scurrying activity, or simply just isolated accents, probably (my guess) meant to reflect the image of rippled sand being blown over dunes.

     The music was first available domestically as a 7 minute suite on The Film Music of Toru Takemitsu (Nonesuch Records, 1997,  also The Film Music of Toru Takemitsu 4 in Japan, 1991).  A longer, expanded release was made available on the Complete Takemitsu Edition 3: Music For Movies 1 (Shogakukan, 2003), though even that is only 10 and a half minutes' worth.  The below table describes the scenes and cues from the expanded 2003 release (the 1997 release included Parts 1, 2 and 4 from the table below). 

Part 1 2:34 Pullback from sand grains to a man climbing, walking over and descending sand dunes with a walking stick.  He reaches an ocean shore.

Layers of mostly high string drones/glissandi, punctuated by 4 bursts of aleatoric bass clarinet/flute/harp/guitar.
Part 2 2:22 The man (a teacher) sits in the sand.  He looks over some insect specimens he's gathered.  A voice-over wonders about identity and society.  The man lies down and seemingly has a dream.  An image of a woman walking on the sand is super-imposed.  The woman squats and observes the man.

Low drones joined by dissonant high string drones, interrupted by a harp/guitar accent, a burst of falling-rising winds and a burst of subtle metal percussion/harp/low winds.

1:38: A local man tells the teacher that the last bus has left, but he will look for a place for him to stay the night.

Wind sounds.
Part 3 0:43 The sand woman sings a lullaby while the man sleeps after trying to escape (source music).
Part 4 1:50 The teacher tries to damage the house and the sand woman tackles him.  The man grabs one of her breasts.  The house shakes and sand falls in.

Reverbed metallic impacts with a few dry wood impacts, wind-like sirens, echoed creaking sounds, rustling sounds.
Part 5 3:04 The teacher wakes up after a tryst with the sand woman and sees a mirage of water outside.  He drinks the last drops from an empty water pot.  He rubs mud on his face and then spits it out in disgust.  He agrees to start working on the sand again.

Isolated harp figures, low string glissandi joined by harp arpeggios/flutter-tongued flute, scraping sounds.  The low strings become a tremolo climax with harsh noise elements.

Woman in the Dunes (Suite from Parts 1, 2 and 4 on YouTube)
Toru Takemitsu Wiki Entry
Woman in the Dunes Wiki Entry
A Guide to Toru Takemitsu's music (The Guardian)

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