Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
Late Kurosawa II. Omnibus films have always been a mixed bag for me. Whether they be joint collaborations (e.g. the disastrous “Four Rooms”) or from a single director (e.g. Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”), they always seem to lack the strength and cohesiveness that feature-length narratives maintain. Personally, I prefer to be gradually drawn into the world of a film instead of sporadically jumping from one different scenario to the next. However, this is not to say that “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams” was a total disappointment, but rather an interesting if lesser entry in the director’s oeuvre.
The full title of the film has a quite literal meaning, as all of its episodes are based on actual dreams experienced by Kurosawa. His background as a painter especially shows in many of the film’s visual compositions (some of which accomplished by special effects from Industrial Light and Magic). The screen is almost always aglow with color, and Kurosawa evokes a wide array of hues, tones and effects for each dream, from the faded watercolors of distant landscapes to violently bright costumes. Memorable sequences include Mount Fuji amid a nuclear apocalypse, a wedding procession of foxes secretly seen by a small boy, a frightened military officer confronting the ghosts of his deceased regiment in a gloomy tunnel and a Kurosawa stand-in (complete with the director’s trademark white hat) wandering through the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh (amusingly portrayed with manic energy by Martin Scorsese).
“Dreams” is worth checking out for its striking visuals alone, but those expecting the Emperor’s storytelling expertise would be better off seeking one of his earlier films. Like actual dreams, the various episodes can be best described as assorted moments, emotions, meditations and happenings – all of which are fine, but somewhat less effective when placed out of the context of a proper narrative. Sorely lacking also are characters that viewers can latch onto and emotionally invest themselves into as they watch the film. Nonetheless, “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams” should still be an intriguing treat for fans of Kurosawa’s work.
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