Release: 21st November 2016
Unfolding in a series of mythic vignettes, this late work by AKIRA KUROSAWA brings eight of the beloved director’s own night time visions, informed by tales from Japanese folklore, to cinematic life. In a visually sumptuous journey through the master’s unconscious, tales of childlike wonder give way to apocalyptic visions. Interspersed with reflections on the redemptive power of art, including a richly textured tribute to Vincent van Gogh.
Taken at face value, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams is utterly bonkers. It flows like the subconscious mind; filling dark spots with mist, deafeningly quiet and seemingly incoherent in its narrative babble. But look a little deeper, and this is a very telling experiment from a man trying to make sense of his life in his twilight years. Forget about going to school naked, losing teeth or falling off a swing, Kurosawa reserves dreamtime for some deep existentialism. Sigmund Freud would have a field day.
Criterion have done their absolute best in giving Kurosawa’s autobiographical (if you can call it that) tale a solid transfer to 4K. The film is plenty furry in places, often teaming with image noise in darker scenes, but the screen beams with vibrant cinematography. Colour was an integral part of how Kurosawa told stories, and Dreams is a seamless example of how he perfected this theme. It is a cliché, but to say that Kurosawa was literally painting his images would not be an exaggeration; ‘Sunshine Through The Rain’, ‘The Peach Orchard’ and ‘Crows’ could practically be framed as moving art. With a film like Dreams, the images are 75% of the viewing experience, so it is great to see them presented with such precision here.
However, as wonderful a filmmaker as Kurosawa was, there is no doubting Dreams’ polarizing nature. There are small narratives within each story, and the overall story arc finally begins to present itself in the second half of the film, but your patience will be tested to the limit. Kurosawa loved his wide shots, and these suited his philosophical themes perfectly. But as Dreams is supposed to be a more intimate experience, there is minimal humanity about it. Even with the vignette ‘The Tunnel’, one cannot help but miss the significant impact of loss and regret our protagonist expresses. It is a shortcoming of the entire film, and possibly a major factor in why so many dismissed the project as self-indulgence.
These issues aside, Dreams does reveal its purpose. Like a spiritual ancestor to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, Dreams is a consideration of the environmentalist fable, channeling itself through the subconscious of its director. It is nightmarish and often abstract in the most wonderful ways. This is a film that overtly recognizes the melting pot of reality, conscious thought, imagery and sensory collectives that influence those vulnerable hours in our sleeping state. And as with most of those remembered experiences, these are often terrifying.
It might be dull in places, and purposefully oblique in others, because Dreams is at art house film to its core. But it is not art for art’s sake, rather an opportunity for Kurosawa to exorcise his demons; especially the screaming ones with horns protruding from their heads.
Film Grade: B-
A stellar collection of Documentaries (the ones with fanboy filmmakers like Clint Eastwood is a much) and Interviews, the supplementary features on offer are wonderful.
Features Grade: B+
To coin a phrase from back in the day; mental, mental chicken oriental.