DREAMS

(Aka "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams")
(Japanese Title: "Yume")

(1990 - Japan)
With Akira Terao, Mitsunuri Isaki, Toshihiko Nakano, Martin Scorsese
Written and Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Reviewed by JB

     I'm thankful Kurosawa had a long and full life and was able to continue making films after RAN. However, this doesn't mean I have to love DREAMS, the first of Kurosawa's distinctively introspective films.

     Dressed up with gorgeous color photography and lovely effects courtesy of George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, DREAMS is still a a self-indulgent collection of simplistic sermons from Kurosawa, disguised as eight "dreams" he remembers from various stages of his life.  Yes, at his age, Kurosawa had earned the right to be self-indulgent, but it does not make for an entertaining or even enlightening movie.  Over and over we are told that man is destroying nature, nuclear power is bad and death is inevitable.  I expect something a bit more mystical and magical and less politically didactic in a film called DREAMS.

     The episodes rarely have dreamlike qualities, and the ones that resemble nightmares are never scary.  With the exception of the Ice Queen in the otherwise tedious "The Blizzard", nothing approaches the horrifying visions of Kurosawa's past films; the Spirit of the Forest from THRONE OF BLOOD, the medium from RASHOMON, and the zombie-like heroin addicts from HIGH AND LOW were all more frightening than almost any of the "horrific" visions in DREAMS.  The apocalyptic segment called "Mt. Fuji in Red" begins with a marvelous, purposely cheesy take on the mass panic of Japanese monster movies (Ishiro Honda, mastermind of those films, was a creative consultant on DREAMS) but almost immediately devolves into one character's textbook lecture on the effects of different types of radioactivity.  In this and other episodes, Kurosawa's dialogue resembles what you might expect from a fifth-grade presentation on Earth Day.  There is also a distinct lack of the humor often found in Kurosawa's films.  The funniest things can happen in dreams, but you wouldn't know it from this film.

     The open-ended first episode, about a boy who witnesses a mystical wedding ceremony of foxes (actors dressed in Nōh-like makeup) is, in hindsight, the most dreamlike of all the segments, and the set design, cinematography and special effects of the episode titled "The Crows", about a young artist who literally loses himself in Vincent van Gogh's paintings, are amazing.  Mitsunuri Asaki plays the adult stand-in for Kurosawa, in several of the episodes and acquits himself nicely, though he cannot do anything with Kurosawa's simplistic dialogue.

     Kurosawa's dreamlike visions work best when surrounded by a solid story.  In DREAMS, there is no story, only visions, and they are not enough to make this a good film. - JB

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