School teacher and amateur entomologist Niki (Okada) is hunting for insects in a remote area of desert dunes. Having missed the last bus, he accepts the invitation of some locals for shelter. They take him to a rope ladder leading down to a shack where he spends the night in the home of an attractive widow (Kishida). The next day, the ladder has vanished and the man is a prisoner, trapped in a deep sandpit. With no hope of release, he and the woman must undertake repetitive labor each day for the food and water they need to survive.
Teshigahara’s second film teams him again with screenwriter/novelist Kobo Abe and composer Toru Takemitsu (“Pitfall”), and together they create a Kafkaesque nightmare. Cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa films the constantly shifting sands as a fluid, sentient being and his camera lingers erotically on the grains of sand clinging to the widow’s naked body. Teshigahara delivers a twisted, terrifying rumination on the Sisyphean nature of existence, and poses troubling existential questions amid the starkly beautiful visuals. Little wonder that Teshigahara became the first Japanese director nominated for an Academy Award for this masterpiece- admittedly, not for all tastes.