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Lavinia

Lavinia

The Woman in the Dunes - E. Dale Saunders, Kōbō Abe I don’t remember how I first came to read this book a few years ago, since I’m neither into Japanese authors nor into Existentialism. Anyway, being an e-book, I dropped it almost immediately, but (again, I don’t remember how) I ended up watching the film, about 3 years ago. And boy was it rewarding! The plot, the cinematography, the music, the resemblance to Fowles’ "The Collector", everything seemed to be perfectly bonded and hallucinating, I dare recommend it. But because I sort of hate leaving books unfinished, I gave it another chance, aaand:

I’m more tempted to say I didn’t like the book. And I’m pretty much incapable of seeing why I would like it. Of course, it’s a matter of taste, or it might be me not getting into it. First of all, I hated Niki Jumpei. He didn’t actually give me any reason to, but he’s not a hero, nor is he an anti-hero. You don’t like him, because he’s not brave, he’s not a genius, he doesn’t have charisma or anything, but you can’t hate him either, because he didn’t do anything wrong, he’s held captive against his will, and he basically can’t do anything to save his ass. He’s dull, incapable of outdoing himself or even understand the situation he finds himself in. The only quality I could recognize in him was being human. That should suffice, I guess, but it didn’t. OK, he was also funny at one point, when he told the villagers that he really should be going, because otherwise he’d miss work! So, no family, no human rights, WORK! I so love these dutiful Japanese guys! :)

As I said, I’m not much into Existentialism, and the little connection I have with it is basically recognizable in my film preferences (Bergman, Antonioni or Truffaut, for instance). But, of course, as many others before me have already observed, it’s quite impossible not to compare Abe with Kafka or Camus – the human condition, man’s futile search for meaning, the philosophy of the absurd, or the Sisyphean labor of shoveling off the sand and preventing the house from being eaten by it. Speaking of sand, which is a ubiquitous character in itself, you find it in every little hole, inside, outside, on the floor, on your body, in your mouth, in your eyes or mixed with all human fluids, leaving you with a dry sensation and a bad taste in your mouth.

Some final thoughts: sometimes the geographical, entomological and geological details are a bit boring, the relationship with the woman (did I mention the woman?) is pretty much (well, a lot!) weird (there’s no love, and the sex is brutal, necessary and mechanic), the ending sucks but suits the existential side of the story and, though I normally don’t, this time I prefer the film.