Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” review

'Dreams' 1990 Poster

‘Dreams’ Poster

Looking through my blog I realised that I haven’t written one post on one of the most talented and influential icons of cinema; that being, of course – Akira Kurosawa.

Now, if you’re thinking…”Kurosawa? Never heard of him.” – you are wrong!

Kurosawa was and still is considered a monumental film maker who’s style, themes, and overall productions influence many techniques and plots that you see today. I could go on about his influence and techniques almost incessantly – and I probably will but, not today because today…I am writing about ‘dreams’.

Some people do not like this film because the stories are ambiguous, blurry and do not have an ending – to that I say, when do dreams make complete sense? And when do they have straight forward, to the point conclusions? Some may, yes…in fact ‘Village of the watermills’ has a nice little ending making it a great way to conclude the film. But really, these stories are Kurosawa’s dreams, the fact they don’t have clear endings are what makes them so much more unique and interesting!

The film ‘Dreams’ was released in 1990 and is based on actual dreams Kurosawa had throughout his life. Kurosawa wrote this film and directed it, making it one of his much more personal films and in my opinion, it’s completely engaging and abstract. The film consists of eight segments (eight dreams):

  1. Sunshine through the rain
  2. The peach orchard
  3. The blizzard
  4. The Tunnel
  5. Crows
  6. Mount Fuji in red
  7. The weeping demon
  8. Village of the Watermills

the boy behind the tree foxes

I could go into huge detail about each dream but, I don’t think I could fit it into just one post. The first segment ‘Sunshine through the rain‘ really is a perfect way of entering the film – this dream does make more sense if you are aware of Japanese legends but it isn’t necessary. This specific dream revolves around the legend of Kitsune (foxes) and it is said that when the sun shines through the rain the Kitsune have their weddings. A little boy is warned not to go out because of this, as the Kitsune get very angry if they are seen during this time. The boy goes out anyway and sees a precession of Kitsune, unfortunately he is seen and runs away. But when he gets home a Kitsune has left him a message – a knife, as he is now supposed to kill himself. Sounds harsh, right? The boy is not allowed back into his home, he is told to apologise to the Kitsune and hope they forgive him, though they rarely forgive. He walks to a rainbow (this is where the Kitsune live) and the scene fades out. We don’t know if he was forgiven, not even Akira truly knows, this is where his dream ends after all.

the blizzard

My two favourite dreams would have to be ‘The Blizzard’ and ‘The Tunnel’. The Blizzard follows four mountaineers climbing a mountain during an awful blizzard, they are tired, freezing, and feeling hopelessly lost. It’s safe to say that they’re faith is no more, and they want to give up. The four men slowly stop walking and do give up, falling asleep and falling into sure death in the snow covered mountain. The leader is eager to move on, but he too falls asleep in the snow, not far from death. Just as they have given up a woman appears to the leader, she urges him to give in and sleep (which will end in all of the men dying). She tells him that the snow and ice are warm, and physically pushes him down, even when he tries to stand. Now, these metaphors do in fact resemble the symptoms of hypothermia – becoming overwhelmed by fatigue and believing that you are warm (due to blood vessels widening and whatnot). The woman represents the onset of certain death. Furthermore, it is thought that the woman may also be a representation of ‘Yuki-onna’ who is a famous spirit and legend in Japanese folklore known for killing mortals in snowstorms – my own interpretation is that the woman is basically a personification of hypothermia and death, luring the men to their end (as Yuki-onna does). But from somewhere deep inside, the leader musters up the strength to push away this woman, the snow storm ends and the sky becomes clear – he sees that camp was a meer few feet from them all along, and the men survive. I think it’s quite a nice little story, showing how that little bit of inner-strength and motivation can make all the difference – it’s surprisingly optimistic.

soldier:officer

‘The Tunnel’ – definitely one of the best dreams, it follows an army officer walking down a road after the second world war. He come across a large, dark tunnel – this scene is set up so well visually, the dusky, eerie atmosphere is captivating. The officer comes across an angry, snarling anti-tank dog strapped with explosives (animal cruelty to aid a human war – which I’m afraid to say really went on during wartime – poor dogs). Anyway, the man gets out of the tunnel eventually, and a dead soldier, Private Noguchi approaches the officer. Noguchi’s skin is completely blue – signifying that he is in fact dead. However, he does not believe that he is whole armydead. The officer does manage to convince Noguchi, and is obviously very distressed by this whole incident. Noguchi returns into the dark tunnel, but it gets worse. The entire third platoon leave the tunnel and approach the Officer – all are blue and were annihilated in the war. The Officer is overcome by his feelings of guilt about their end, and gives a truly moving speech – the soldiers remain still and mute. Which is so creepy, but so effective. In the end the Officer orders the platoon to about face, and march. They return into the tunnel. And he salutes them as they go. The dream ends with the return of the anti-tank dog, barking at the Officer. This is definitely an intriguing dream, did the Officer really see any of these things? Is his overwhelming guilt facing him head on? Is the anti-tank dog a representation of his self punishment? …Or is it nothing but an interesting dream?

‘Crows’ looks at an art student who literally enters the paintings of his idol Vincent Van Gogh, and meets the artist himself. The most interesting part of this story is how attached we get to the people we look up to, the people that influence us. This student is van gogh wheatfieldso engulfed in Van Gogh’s work he literally steps inside his world. I did some research into Van Gogh and I digress here but I found such a hauntingly beautiful quote from a letter Van Gogh wrote, “La tristesse durera toujours” (The sadness will last forever). It’s not totally off topic as one of the last things we see is Van Gogh walk out into the painting ‘Wheat fields with Crows’ – It was thought for a long time that this was his last painting (though, they have now found that it probably was not). But it so clearly conveys Van Gogh’s perpetual depression and sorrow – the black crows, gloomy sky, and cut off path (which is where Van Gogh walks to) is haunting. But a great representation of his life and work, and inspiration to generations of people and artists.

The last three films look closer into how humans have mistreated and destroyed the world that we live in. ‘Mount Fuji in red’ and ‘The weeping demon’ look at nuclear explosions and the destruction of Japan – and the aftermath and mutations that result. ‘Mount Fuji in Red’ shows a large nuclear power plant melt down, with six reactors exploding one at a time. The people fuji nucleurrun into the sea, and consequently drown. There are then three adults and two young children left (the children with their emotional mother). One man wearing a suit explains that the different coloured clouds will cause cancer, leukemia, and mutations/birth defects. He sneers at how foolish they were to colour code the three lethal gases, after all they are all lethal no matter – he is ashamed to admit he worked for the power plant and believed in what it stood for, he goes on to kill himself by jumping into the sea knowing that there is no better way. The gases shower around the mother and her children and the young man, who takes off his jacket attempting to clear the air for the children. This is where the dream ends, unfortunately you can guess how it ends without needing to see it, a pretty dramatic story.

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 01.05.12‘The weeping demon’ sees the aftermath of a radiation poisoned Japan – with humans growing painful horns and becoming demons who live by eating each other. The horns cause great pain but the demons cannot die – “immortality is their punishment”. My favourite parts of this dream is the visuals, there is a great shot of the 2/3 horned demons screaming in pain at night by two pools of red liquid – it looks intense! Also, the ground that was once beautiful is now bleak terrain, though there are ‘monster dandelions’ that grow – I did find this slightly comical…giant weeds, get Alan Titchmarsh on it!

dandelions

Monster dandelions!

The final dream is fairly tranquil, a traveller stumbles upon a village who use no modern technology whatsoever, in turn they live long, happy lives and instead of having funerals full of sorrow they celebrate with great joy the end of a full and happy life with the whole village leading a procession of the coffin. It’s a nice, happy little way to end the film and an interesting take on what our priorities are in today’s society.

dreams4

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4 thoughts on “Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” review

  1. Teepee12 says:

    One of the very few non-English language movie makers I like. He’s up there with Ford, Bergman and just a few other luminaries.

  2. I saw this great film over 15 years ago and is still part of my dreams 🙂

  3. Walker says:

    I almost never comment, however I read a lot of remarks here
    Akira Kurosawas Dreams review | fionalockwoodyr1.
    I do have some questions for you if it’s okay.
    Could it be just me or do some of these comments appear like
    they are coming from brain dead people? 😛 And,
    if you are writing at additional places, I would like to follow you.
    Could you list of all of all your social community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin
    profile?

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