"Some say life is hard, but that is just talk. It is good to be alive, it is exciting!"
One of the most beautiful films I've ever had the pleasure to watch. Kurosawa is a master at building such a theatre inspired aesthetic with the focus primarily on his actors performance it comes to no real surprise that the performances throughout are terrific. Split into anthology of sorts the film at times struggles to maintain a coherent tone which it's audience may struggle to adapt with. The films only real issue is that it unfortunately steps into self indulgent territory with many scenes over extending their stay, resulting in bloated sequences throughout.
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1. Sunshine Through The Rain
Magic. An incredible reminder that dreams had in childhood can have cruel and terrifying stakes that far exceed our external world. Stunning matte paintings, too.
2. The Peach Orchard
My mouth was hanging open watching this shit. A mix of pre-pubescent mystery, wonder, and frustration. Kurosawa is on the longest of lenses, compressing his action to a completely flat plane, like a tapestry – they’re so long you can actually see heat waves shimmering in the foreground. Worth watching for this segment, alone.
3. The Blizzard
Mountaineers slowing down, stuck, fallen, and visited by a snow ghost spirit. I feel like I've had a version of this dream at some point. Jeff Foxworthy voice: "If the base camp turned out to be next to you the whole time......you might be dead from exposure!"
4. The Tunnel
The distant glowing light of the solider's 'home' packs more poetic visual punch than a lot of entire movies do. Seems plain to me now that Kurosawa was doing the orange and teal thing before anyone else.
Scorsese plays Van Gogh. Love his frantic dedication to the craft - ‘not enough time, not enough time’. The drive of a locomotive. Especially surreal to see a contemporary interior in a Kurosawa movie.
6. Mount Fuji In Red
The impact of this is all in the devastating futility of the ending. I understand the enormous cultural baggage at play with the radiation here, but this is where 'Dreams' gets soggy, which is when its imagery gives way to unnecessary monologuing.
7. The Weeping Demon
Giant dandelions and writhing, tormented demons lounging by red pools. This feels like a Fringe show I saw once.
8. Village of the Watermills
More monologuing about the environment here, but ‘Village’s funereal atmosphere wraps up ‘Dreams’ in a way that closes the loop but stays ambiguous enough to make you reconsider the whole film. And then I woke up.
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Many of the dreams deal with loss of innocence, not only of “I” but also of Japan as the setting of the film. While the protagonist is very early on faced with death and destruction (especially of nature) which later continues with his trauma caused by the senseless deaths of his comrades during war Japan loses its innocence as well as the colors of the first dreams start to fade turning into dark tones in the later episodes until everything is wiped out during the nuclear explosions and their aftermath. This might lead to one of the reasons why it was so difficult for Kurosawa to find the money for his picture since, especially the sixth dream titled “Mount Fuji in Red”, it is highly critical of Japan embracing nuclear technology. After the war this seems to be the doom for the country as well as its people, with the toxic red gas approaching which contains plutonium as one of the last surviving humans (Hishashi Igawa) tells two others before he jumps from a cliff into a quicker death. Japan, as shown in the film, has long gone and its only choice is to find a way back before its too late.
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Dreams is a film which lives and breathes through its impressive use of color and landscape. As he has done so many times before, especially in works such as Ran, beautiful wide angle shots show nature in its entire beauty, a sight which is overwhelming at times for the observer. While in Ran the setting for the many battle scenes here it seems more peaceful – until it erupts in the sixth dream leaving the world in a desolate state with demons roaming the deserted ash fields of what once was a country. It is an idyllic setting, nature with its forest and rivers, one which is in no need for technology which, in the end, only speeds up the process of humanity's demise. It is a very didactic approach the director has chosen, but one which he expresses full of conviction.
In conclusion, Dreams is a beautiful and sometimes disturbing film about the relationship between humanity and nature as well as about a boy growing up, finding his way in life and exploring its possibilities. Using the logic of dreams each one of the episodes ends rather abruptly like waking up (sometimes form a nightmare which one would rather forget as soon as possible). It is a very personal film for its director, one with a message for its viewer which – considering the alternative he offers – sounds a bit naïve, too utopian to be precise, especially for someone who has explore the human condition in his work for most of his life.