Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
B- Sound: B- Extras: C- Film: B+
In one of
his late, overlooked cinematic achievements, the great Japanese director Akira
Kurosawa released an eight-part anthology called Dreams in 1990, and it showed that he was also the master of the
short form. It should be noted in
advance that Ishiro Honda directed two of the segments, which will make more
sense in a moment. Critics and audiences
expecting another Samurai epic and not really paying attention to what was
being done here rejected some very well-crafted pieces of pure cinema. Here are the eight segments:
Sunshine Through the Rain – A child goes out into the
forbidden unknown, sees what he is not supposed to see, and then is not allowed
back home for this “sin” of knowledge.
This is a supreme expression of childhood loneliness and abandonment
that rings very true and sets off this film right.
The Peach Orchard – Only one young man can see a
mysterious woman appear and disappear.
When he leaves his house to follow her, he discovers a world of people
from another world: The Doll People. This is an extraordinary piece thematically
and visually. This also introduces a
major theme in this film: the denaturing of the world.
The Blizzard – Four men on an expedition
struggle to survive being caught and possibly killed crawling through the
results of one ugly storm before the next one hits.
The Tunnel – A man traveling on foot comes
to a road that leads to a tunnel, and
in its dark abyss, an army of death visits him.
This is preceded by a hound, who bathed in blood red light, may be from
hell itself. This does not stop the
traveler from entering as he meets death head on and a greater truth. The first of two helmed by Honda.
Crows – A young man visits an exhibit of
Vincent Van Gogh and finds himself literally getting lost in the
paintings. Martin Scorsese (as a tribute
in part to Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 masterwork Lust for Life) is Van Gogh.
Scorsese is convincing and Kurosawa experimented with early analog
(non-Digital) High Definition video (as it had been, developed by Sony) for
certain shots. For all the newer digital
HD we are getting now, why does this look so much more artistic?
Mount Fuji in Red – As an intellectual inverse to
the giant monster movies since Godzilla
(1956) and also directed for Kurosawa as the second segment directed by
original Godzilla director Ishiro
Honda, the great title landmark becomes active again and sets off a half-dozen
nuclear reactors in the process. With
the worst nightmare realized, everyone tries to survive by running, but few
survive. Those who do reflect
intellectually as their doom approaches.
The Weeping Demon – Speaking of monsters, the theme
of a wanderer in The Tunnel is
repeated, and placed in the aftermath of the previous segment.
Village of the Watermills – A visitor mirroring the one in Crows goes to the title location, which
easily fits the Van Gogh mode. There, a
wise old man has the final word about the world, not unlike the director
If some of
this sounds like Rod Serling’s original Twilight
Zone, the greatest common denominator between the two is anxiety, the kind
that comes from being honest about the world, about being honest about the
human condition. Instead of being an
imitator, Kurosawa shares his own unique and private visions. He wrote the entire screenplay, though Honda
seems to have penned the segments he directed to some extent, but it coheres
anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is sometimes softer than it should be,
but is color consistent often enough.
This is a film with an extraordinary use of color, some of the most
complex Kurosawa ever engaged in. LucasFilm
actually helped with the visual effects.
Cinematographer Kazutami Hara and several assistant cameramen used Kodak
stocks to great effect here. The Dolby
Digital 2.0 Stereo has Pro Logic surrounds and was released with Dolby A-type
sound theatrically. This sounds like a
recycling of the PCM CD Stereo LaserDisc tracks and sadly has occasional warping. Besides an exceptional score by Shinichiro
Ikebe, the sound design and sound editing have the kind of exceptional
character Kurosawa’s films are known for.
The only extras are brief cast/crew information and awards throughout
Kurosawa’s career and not the more expansive goods on the DVD to Paul
Schrader’s Mishima – A Life in Four
Chapters, also from Warner Home Video and just as highly recommended.
- Nicholas Sheffo