From the Archive: Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams

According to the gimmicky title scrawled across the top of my radio script (“Reel Thing V: The Final Frontier”), this review was featured in the fifth episode of our weekly movie review program. This was clearly a week in which our modest college town didn’t get very many new films, necessitating a trip to Madison to catch art film screenings there. I’d barely seen any Akira Kurosawa films by this point (probably only Ran, and I may not have even seen that yet), a highly inconvenient fact I tried to cover up in the writing process with only the most passive reference to the history of wondrous cinema he carried into this effort. I was, to put it plainly, a little out of my depth in writing about the film.

Many of us are fascinated by our dreams. A person you can apparently count among that group is the internationally acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. In fact, he’s so fascinated by his dreams that he chose to devote several of them to film, and that produced the film with the very appropriate title Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Dreams is really a collection of eight short films that each take their reference point from one of Kurosawa’s dreams, each segment having its own focus, feel, and direction. It’s sort of the filmmaking equivalent of a book collecting several new short works of a well-known author. Since each dream has its own focus, each part much succeed or fail on its own merits, and, as one would expect, some fare better than others. Some like “The Blizzard,” which follows a group of mountain climbers on a treacherous journey through a terrible blizzard, and “The Weeping Demon,” an uninventive look at a post-holocaust world, are simply uninteresting pieces of work which become too mired in their strange sense of self-importance to really capture the imagination. Many are also simply forgettable, nice images to look at for a while, but nothing that you’ll retain for too long. When the sequences work, though, they work marvelously. The first dream, entitled “Sunshine Through the Rain,” gives us a young boy viewing the forbidden sights the forest holds during a rainstorm. His innocent curiosity as he views this fascinating and oddly frightening scene rubs off and the entire segment is captivating. Other notables include “Crows,” featuring Martin Scorsese as Vincent van Gogh as Kurosawa guides us through the wonder creations of van Gogh’s mind. Also the segment that closes the film, entitled “Village of the Waterwheels,” lends praise to simplicity and naturalness of life through the eyes and words of a terrifically wise storyteller. The images and magic Kurosawa creates in these segments are easily enough to counterbalance the moments of the film that drag or misfire. (3 stars, out of 4)