on October 20, 2003
I read & heard so much about Akira's last masterpiece. I watched his earlier offering in the form of "Ran" & many of my friends told me that "Dreams" was heaps better as it's a more personal & heart-felt works of the Director. Compounded by the fact that this is also Akira's last work, I told myself that this is a must-have collector's item. When I watched this movie, I could understand why Steven Spielberg & Martin Scorcese liked Akira's work so much for its subtle & abstracted messages that screamed out quietly "Humanity". All the short stories were beautifully taken & at times, I would gaze at them with bewilderment. At times, the scenes seemed to drag on forever but perhaps, that's Akira's intention to captivate our attention through the protracted silence with anticipation. I found the experience exhilarating & puzzling at the same time. The only downside of this movie would be that the final four short stories all talked about the same topic, about our callous nature that eventually destroyed nature & civilisation. Furthermore, I questioned Akira's idea of using the same actor for different short stories. It's quite interesting to see Martin playing the part of Van Gogh instead of directing a movie. All I can say is that watch this movie with an open-mind. For visual treat, don't miss this but if you expect a fast pace & direct movie, you would be disappointed. A definite must-see for Akira's fan!
on June 12, 2004
This is perhaps a tough film to review because it is highly personal in nature, being composed of the dreams of its author; however, being highly personal does not mean it lacks universality, in fact quite the contrary. Akira Kurosawa is widely recognised as one of the greatest film makers of the twentieth century, i.e. in film-making history. He himself described this film - and I paraphrase from memory - as the film he had always wanted to make, his ultimate and best film. I do not believe that this is because the particular story-lines in the film were so important but because using the medium of dreams, Kurosawa was able to delve into a level of storytelling far deeper than much of his previous work and explore further subtleties of texture, nuance, psychology, colour, mood and so on. That said, the themes and stories on the surface are of interest because they evoke quintessentially Japanese pre and post war issues, also the perceptions of childhood, of adulthood, of facing death, of nostalgia. However, using the medium of a dream, Kurosawa can penetrate deep into the heart of each vignette to give us unsurpassably lovely and profound entries into the heart of particular moods, for ultimately this is what each story is: a very profound, almost sub-consciously- inhabited mood piece. Both in esoteric buddhism and Shinto, with both of which Kurosawa was culturally familiar to say the least, moods can be regarded as the gateway into the central channel of enlightenment; in other words, rather than avoid feelings and passions in order to engender peace or purity, instead you dive into their turbulent waves to thereby enter the deeper, silent ocean of awareness beneath. This he does beautifully with each piece, and in fact once you connect with this dynamic, many of the stories lay open to fuller enjoyment, like a main course served up at a banquet. In nearly every piece there is an encounter with a world beyond the immediately perceived one, and yet linked in feeling, in mood, in terms of season, colour, surrounding, context and so on. And then the 'deity' of that particular landscape or situation emerges, either as the gods and goddesses of the peach tree orchard, the foxes in the forest, van Gogh, the ice storm deities or whatever, the deity being the quintessential expression of the mood freed from any burdens of being bound to everyday normalcy, function or timeframe - a pure expression. In essence, this film is a study - or teaching - in the union of awareness and emotion; as such it is incredibly precise, playful, artistic and profound. I urge anyone who has not seen it to do so. It is unquestionably one of the greatest masterpieces of cinematic art in history and will remain so for centuries, I suspect, long after many others have faded from memory.
on June 4, 2004
In just eight "dreams," Akira Kurosawa managed to capture my attention and, most importantly, my heart. These many stories, some on the personal level individually and some on the personal level culturally, continue to evoke thought and emotion the whole way.
Amazingly, I can see these dreams in sections themselves. The first two, "Sunshine Through the Rain" and "The Peach Orchard" both involve a young Kurosawa (we can assume). While "Sunshine" may take a dark and very depressing turn, "Orchard" offers some hope in its symbolic ending of the lone orchard and the young boy going after the girl.
The third dream, "The Blizzard," seemed at first to me like a story all its own, but the book "The Films of Akira Kurosawa," by Donald Richie, explains it as the tale of an "adolescent Kurosawa," although I would prefer to guess it as a fictional "mountain man Kurosawa" as the next tale offers a fictional "officer Kurosawa." (again, to quote Richie) Lost in a snow storm, the adolescent Kurosawa sees a "yuki-onna," or snow-woman, who warms him until the storm lifts and it reveals their camp. When I first saw this tale I thought it was the slowest thing I had ever seen, but the second time it was far more fascinating. The sound affects are well done, and the shots of the pure white blizzard and dark shapes of the four struggling men became beautiful in a haunting manner. And, of course, the yuki-onna was a nice touch.
The fourth dream is called "The Tunnel" and shows us an "officer Kurosawa" returning from the war. As he walks through a long tunnel he is revisited by his former comrades-in-arms...who had been lost in the war. This reflects the inner feelings of many Japanese soldiers returning from WWII, feeling as if they had failed their nation and their friends, and the agony of returning defeated with no gain in sight.
The next few films take a young adult Kurosawa in different dream-like circumstances, most often as observer. To me, these are the most fascinating ones, as the Kurosawa character in each is more of an observer, asking characters in his dream at what is happening and why. Starting with "Crows," Kurosawa actually ENTERS an Impressionist painting, heading off to meet Van Gogh in person. He continues to travel through different paintings as if they were real environments, which Kurosawa once explained in person he would often imagine himself doing when he looked upon great pieces of art. I have to confess that this sequence is a double-plus for me...not only is it done by my favorite film maker Akira Kurosawa, but Van Gogh is played by Martin Scorcese, another film maker I adore.
The next two sequences, "Mount Fuji in Red" and "The Weeping Demon" portray nightmares about a Japan that might be. The first is a more possible story about a nuclear fallout of Japan's nuclear power plants - which causes Mount Fuji to erupt and howl like an awakened god. Some consider this as nothing more than another anti-nuclear sentiment from Japan, but I believe it to be instead a classic Japanese nightmare of a horrible event happening on their island and they have no where to run to - a similar type of story was done in a 1960's about Japan sinking into the sea and no one offering any aide to the survivors. "Demon" tells the story of Japan after a nuclear war, combining apocalyptic storytelling with Japanese legend. The Kurosawa character comes across a deformed man with one horn, called an oni but in actuality a victim of radiation. Society has become nothing but demons who eat each other based on a class system, but every night howling in pain caused by their horns. The shot of the entire oni race howling and walking about as humanity's doomed future is perhaps one of the most frightening shots I've seen on film.
The final dream, "Village of the Watermills," is actually fairly positive after the last two. Kurosawa comes across a village of primitive people and has a chat with an old man fixing a new watermill. Much of it is the old man's philosophy on life and how society is going, including the efforts of science and technology.
While this film may not have the narrative storyline or be fast-paced enough for some, I have found this film to be very meditative. Some images, including the blizzard as well as the dance of the dolls, can be very hypnotic, and by the end of the film I even found myself watching during the credits to observe the plants in the water. Obviously this was a very personal work, but it is also a very moving one at that. It was also meditative in sense of emotion, for I feel so many different things watching this: I feel sadness in "Sunshine," I feel sentimental in "Tunnel," I feel horrified in "Demon," and hopeful in "Village." In being personal with himself, Kurosawa has made this film personal for the viewer. I am not Japanese, and I don't pretend to be, but I am also human - and human sentiment is what this film is all about.
on April 2, 2004
Kurosawa's Dreams consists of all his worries about the world and human beings. Since it's one of his last works, his mentality of filming "the Dreams" differed from films such as Seven Samurai in the zenith of his filming career. Instead of presenting the fierce fighting scenes, which he had excelled in, he put more effort into the internalized understandings of human beings, expressing naivete, confusions, struggle, losses, enthusiasm, despair, anger, fear and ultimately internal tranquility¡ªthe natural way of life. It is like a life circle.
If you look at Kurosawa's life, these dreams actually imply his own mentalities from childhood and youth to old. The young artist in the movie, who experienced the Crows, Mount Fuji in Red, the Weeping Ghost, and the Village of the Watermills, is himself. As a young man, Kurosawa majored in Western Art, and was greatly influenced and fascinated by Western artists such as Van go. His obsession with art at that time is obvious as "he" was running through the Van go's works. When I was watching the Crow, I was amazed by the setting of the scenes and his capability of shooting, making every aspect look exactly like Van go's work! Kurosawa is a truly versatile director, surely among the rare ones that have such grounded foundation in fine arts. Comparably, he is not as versed in music as in art. I'm especially amazed by his nuanced choices of color in his colored films. (I will talk about the use of color in Ran later, hopefully.) During the precarious time in Japanese history with wars and political movements, as an aspiring educated young man, who witnessed so many human disasters and stupidities, he got somewhat frustrated yet more angry. The characters in many of his "dreams" condemned the inhumanity brought by H-bombs and nuclear missiles¡ªthe big disaster took place in Japan during WW II. It reminds me of his other movie "I Live in Fear". If we look back on his earlier movies, we can see that the main string of Kurosawa's Dreams is a retrospect of ups and downs of his life as well as a summary of many topics in his other movies.
In the end, Kurosawa presents to us an ideal word, out of any form of industrialization, out of any artificial intentions and religions. The world he describes in the village of watermills, a village without a name, (since names themselves are artificial), is the world that is believed in Zen¡ªa belief that was greatly influenced by Taoism (the path) originated in China believing that human beings should live in a harmony of nature and keep of mood of harmony. "End the thinking (unnatural intention), end the pain," is commonly cited in Zen. This revelation of living life as its original form is where Kurosawa found his internal tranquility¡ªin peace. This is also a sincere advice from an experienced old man. The last scene, as the water wheels goes round and round, life goes on and on as an endless circle.
on October 16, 2003
Eight dream-like stories that touches on everything from a childhood fantasy about a witnessing a fox wedding in the forest to post-apocalyptic nightmare of mutants and cannibals. Some very powerful stuff but a couple of episodes got too preachy when Mr. Kurosawa is exploring his nuclear-war anxieties.
Some of my favorite pieces:
The Tunnel: A weary Japanese officer is walking home from a POW camp at the end of WWII. On the road, he comes upon a dark gaping tunnel, from which the ghosts of his dead soldiers emerge and haunt his conscience. It is hard to forget the image and the sound of a platoon of dead soldiers marching with relentless military precision, gradually emerging from the inky depth of the tunnel like bad memories welling up unbidden.
Sun Under the Rain: A boy ignores his mother's admonitions to stay in doors on a day when rain is falling on clear sunny sky. He ventures to the woods and witness an odd procession of fox spirits. It may sounds like fairy-tale yet the story takes a disquieting turn. The last images of a rainbow striding across a lush valley are beautiful almost beyond belief, but all that beauty is tempered by the uncertain fate of the little boy.
Crows: An art lover step into Van Gogh's paintings. Your eyes will think they died and went to heaven.
on September 16, 2003
Akira Kurosawa's dreams are better than mine. If this is what he saw when he closed his eyes, then I can understand how from that mind sprang the Seven Samurai and the rest.
"Dreams" is maybe the most personal, most "Japanese" of Kurosawa's films, and along with that it is perhaps the most difficult one for Western audiences to appreciate. This is saying nothing against Western audiences, but many of the themes and myths on display may not be familiar, and the imagery and metaphors may be lost without the appropriate background. I definitely appreciated it more after living in Japan, and becoming familiar with the countries folklore and literary story-telling style. Hina Dolls, the Yuki Onna, the mountain villiges like islands of tradition amongst concrete modern Japan...
"Dreams" is beautiful, on a purely visual level. The cinematography is exquisite and the colors and light are displayed with the eye of a painter. It is appropriate that Van Gogh plays a role in one of the many dreams. Like Van Gogh, the stories in "Dreams" are expressionistic and vivid, yet with the subdued emotions that is the hallmark of Japanese literature. This is not the wild, raw statement of a younger Kurosawa.
Story-wise, the dreams play with the themes of death and loss, both human and of nature. The displacement of Japanese forests, the lack of safety standards at nuclear power plants, the loss of traditional Japan, the pointless loss of lives in war...melancholy themes at best. Yet at the end, hope is offered, in a small nook and cranny, like a flower blooming amongst concrete.
The DVD itself is a small disappointment, and I would rather have this belong to the Criterion Collection, but better to have it than not have it.
on July 23, 2003
This is an extraordinarily beautiful movie that is at parts mysetic, fanciful, and downright depresing. The viewer experience everything from a fox wedding, a gorgeous scene with traditional wedding dress, Doll festival dolls coming to life, the dolls have gorgeous Heian era atire, a severe blizard, with the appearance of the yukionna, a moving scene of a former commander of a japanese unit who meets his ghostly shoulders. This is probably my favorite scene in the movie because the officer shows his pure sadness for the meaningless deaths of his soldiers, and the cruel fate that awaited him aftr the war. In the fifth scene we meet vincent van gogh withing a painting and he discusses the creative process, Mount Fuji in Red is a strange scene in which Kuroawa displays his fears of nuclear technology, the next scene shows mutations caused by the nuclear power plant explosion. The last scene is set in a quiet village away from the modern world, and even though the main part of the scene is a funeral it is quite a moving piece about the celebration of life not the tragedy of death. Great movie at a great price.
on May 5, 2003
Clearly his most personal film, this is a film that will be name checked, discussed, studied, and ultimatley be copied in the future. The dream sequence is pretty much in every single film made at this point, but no one dared to make an entire movie out of a dream sequence, or sequences as Kurosawa did. Cinema has always had its boundaries pushed forward, but more people need to think outside the box. If there are no rules of reality in making a film, then make the film acording to a reality that doesn't exist. That is what Kurosawa finally was able to do at 80 years of age, and more people will start using this movie as a reference tool to further go into their souls. As for the DVD itself, it is pretty bare-boned, but the low list-price makes it a very clear decision on what will become a classic masterpiece.
This was a tough one to pick out from the entire movie,
but the very last shot in the movie, the entire credit sequence where all you see is the stream flowing with the Moscow Symphony playing the music in the background is astonishing. Stay for the credits.
on April 26, 2003
I remember seeing this movie some 6 years ago on PBS (a cultural/educational channel stationed here in New York).Not knowing what I was really watching,and also catching the film in the middle,I thought it was kind of wierd,yet very intriuging. I wanted to find out more about this movie and the director behind it.
At the time I didn't have a computer,so research was kind of limited or took lots of work(you know what I mean). So I left the issue alone and concentrated on other things. Then one year later,"DREAMS" came on PBS again, and I happily watched it from start to finish. I have to say, this one of the best films I have seen ever.(and I have seen a lot!)
For one thing, This film "DREAMS" has opened my heart to foriegn-Japanese films and Japanese/Asian art as well.
In this film, Akira Kurosawa showed stunning visual perception and artistic quality you don't see very often in U.S. films. It was one of those art films that allows you take a mental and emotional journey into the mind and life of Kurosawa.
These are 8 beautifully,carefully shot and written stories that will move you in ways you never thought possible (only if you allow it to.)
If you are ONLY into high-budget commercial American films that are only there to dull your brain and steal your money, then you might want to stay away from this powerful gem. But, I sincerely recommend anyone to give it a chance.
You're getting deep stories with abundant amount of heart and soul. If you're an open-minded individual, you won't regret checking it out.
P.S.(If you love this movie then check out "RAISE THE RED LANTERN". It's not directed by Kurosawa, but it's also a powerful and thought-provoking Asian art film.)
on March 27, 2003
I finally got online after a while and went poking around and stumbled across this DVD just in an off chance. I was almost completely shocked and amazed to have found it listed. Finally some of Kurosawa's best movies are coming out of Limbo. I have read some recent reviews of this new DVD, and hope it isn't quite as bad as they say it is as far as the widescreen and picture quality go. But of course I am not going to get my hopes up. I have had this for many many years on VHS, and managed to track down a copy on Laserdisc, just before DVD's for anything ever hit the market.
To just make it brief on the review of this movie in general, this is a brilliantly artistic series of short stories, by a super brilliant movie maker. Years ago I had fallen in love with many japanese movies, and Kurosawa has always been a favorite, and almost never disappointed (even my discriminating and picky taste). If you have never watched much foreign movies, try to remember to keep an open mind and follow along as best you can. And watch it again and again to try and catch more things. Some sequences you may not like a whole heck of a lot, but others will surely touch your heart. I only wish Kurosawa could have been encouraged to have made many more of these. The world has truly lost a great visionary of great japanese culture.
To tell you a little of what has been going on with some Kurosawa movies, at least in what I have observed. As near as I can tell, their must have been some problems with Kurosawa's properties when he passed away a number of years ago. Soon after his passing this particular movie Dreams (among some others), disappeared from the market anywhere on VHS or Laserdisc. And for years after that nothing was heard or much known what was going on. Because of this instance, the VHS was off the market for quite a while, then sort of reappeared. But mostly as a Rental copy...
Hopefully now that this has hit the market, it means more of his properties have been released for the general market, and if this DVD copy isn't the best thing around, we can maybe get together and encourage some places (such as Criterion) to look into getting a super great version put out some time in the near future.
Oh, and one other thing. I would have easily given the rating a perfect 5 (which is what the movie itself deserves), but from the reviews of possibly being a bad copied DVD version, I felt I should knock it down to 4. Hopefully it isn't as bad, but like I said, if it is, hope springs eternal that someone else will get the rights to it and make a super great copy like this so deserves.