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Akira Kurosawa's Dreams

Warner Bros. // PG // March 18, 2003
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 14, 2003 | E-mail the Author
I've always considered Dreams (1988) to be a vanity project. Not only because of the obvious fact that its US title is usually known as Akira Kurosawa's Dreams but in the fact that it is a film by a master director, late in his life, has some personal philosophy messages about he ways of the world, and it stands apart from his other films.

Dreams structure is simple, little shorts/dreams, some having a parable commonality, some not, folding out over the course of an hour and a half. The dreams are: SUNSHINE THROUGH THE RAIN- THE PEACH ORCHARD- THE BLIZZARD- THE TUNNEL- CROWS- MOUNT FUGI IN RED- THE WEEPING DEMON- and VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS.

SUNSHINE THROUGH THE RAIN and THE PEACH ORCHARD share a child's eye view. In the first, a young boy is told not to go into the woods because on days like this, when it rains when the sun is out, foxes hold their wedding ceremonies. The boy goes anyway and observes the foxes (portrayed by actors in traditional stage dress and makeup) timid wedding march and, after being discovered, must pay the consequences for offending them. Likewise in THE PEACH ORCHARD, a young boy follows a doll to his families orchard which has been cut down, upsetting the doll spirits, who object to the destruction.

THE BLIZZARD has a very classic Japanese horror feel. It could have easily fit into Kwaidan. Four mountain men are lost in a storm and beginning to give up. A spirit appears, the embodiment of the storm and like a siren tries to lure them into sleep which will bring about their death. In CROWS an artist in a museum is transported into a Van Gogh painting and walks through the countryside where Van Gogh found his inspiration. Eventually he runs into Van Gogh, himself (an oddly cast Martin Scorsese). As he tries to follow the master painter, the landscape changes and he walks through actual Van Gogh paintings.

Then there is the somewhat preachy duo of MOUNT FUGI IN RED and THE WEEPING DEMON. Both are very basic anti-nuclear power tales, and while simplistic and filled with plain no-nuke/eco-freindly rhetoric, it is forgivable because the subject matter is such a just one and Kurosawa's passion comes through even if the execution is melodramatic. In MOUNT FUGI IN RED a man, a woman and her two children and a power plant executive witness the destruction as a nuclear plant has a meltdown behind Mt. Fugi, making it appear like the legendary mountain is erupting. In THE WEEPING DEMON a man wanders through a post-apocalyptic wasteland of black charred earth and mutated flowers. He encounters a demon, a ragged survivor who has a horn growing out of his head. The demon explains the new social classes, one, two and three horned demons, and how they are damned to an eternal life which is only ended if you are cannibalized by a higher demon.

Finally we come to my favorites THE TUNNEL and VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS. In the creepy and heart wrenching THE TUNNEL, a soldier returning home confronts his battalion, who all died in the war. Their ghosts march behind him, all wishing to return home, and he must explain that it isnt possible and apologizes for not dying with them. The film ends with the simple, sweet, and life affirming VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS. A hiker comes across a small village and sits down to talk with a resident, an old man who spins various wisdoms about their simple way of life. For instance, the old man says they don't have electricity only oil lamps and the hiker replies "But night is so dark." The old man counters, "Yes, thats what it is supposed to be." But, when the sound of up tempo music is heard and the old man explains that they are having "A nice happy funeral.", the segment becomes most insightful. It's actually a short that helped me out a lot when my grandmother died.

The structure of Dreams, the dispensing of any true narrative, is so unlike what Kurosawa was known for, the great stories of Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Kagemusha, High and Low and Red Beard and the rich character work. But, his visual touch is still there and is what carries the film. Although simplistic and only sketches, the segments are after all, dreams, and that's its what dreams are, just snippets. So, it is a rewarding look inside a film maker, a personal work that succeeds in its simplicity and Kurosawa's magnificent images.

The DVD: Warner

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The image is quite good, though not exactly perfect. The color palette, something that Kurosawa was a master of, is quite rich and strong. Contrast is good too. Sharpness and grain could be improved. Most of all, the print shows some occasional softening around the edges and the occasional spot or line. While it is a vast improvement over the murky vhs and is a fine enough release, the elements could probably be spruced up and aren't exactly A+ material.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Japanese (primarily) with optional yellow English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Thai, Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese subtitles. Sound is fine, though simple. Background noises are fairly subdued with music and dialogue coming through nicely primarily in the in the front speakers.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Cast and Crew list and Kurosawa filmography and awards list.

Conclusion: The disc being barebones is a real downer, however the presentation should satisfy those who just want the film- period. Certainly Kurosawa was a film maker whose significance and merit cannot be argued. He was a master, plain and simple, and he continues to be influential. So, one wonders why, with such a wealth of info about the man, Warner didn't see fit to add some more extras on this disc? But, if you are any sort of Kurosawa fan, the fair price and decent presentation should make you pleasantly happy, just not as happy as you could be if Warner given this release some extras.

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