Friday, August 22, 2008

REVIEW: Long Dream - Higuchinsky (2000)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

I used to be, and still am to some extent, a fan of the writings of neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. His books "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and "The Anthropologist on Mars" chronicled sometimes tragic, sometimes uncanny but always fascinating stories of brain injuries, neurological syndromes and amazing accounts of savantism. An artist who has sustained a head injury and is no longer able to perceive colour while another man suffers a similar brain injury and suddenly sounds exhibit themselves to him as colours, people who cannot create new memories and live in an eternal present, a woman who has lost the ability to feel connected to her body parts, etc. It may seem like a giant leap between a respected physician and author to a one hour, made-for-TV J-Horror film, but I couldn't help but think of Sack's writings as I watched Ukrainian-Japanese filmmaker Higuchinsky's "Long Dream", the puzzling and nightmarish story of a man who fears he will be swallowed up into his own dream world.

Dr. Kuroda (Masami Horiuchi) has a truly unique patient in his care, Mukouda (Shuuji Kashiwabara), a young man who is suffering from some bizarre new sleep-related syndrome; each night his dreams seem to be growing longer and longer. Mukuoda at first recounts how they feel as if they are lasting months, but soon he is complaining that they are lasting one year, two years... ten years. He begins to have trouble remembering the hospital, Dr. Kuroda and the rest of his waking life as he perceives them as having taken place decades ago, his speech patterns begin to alter as if he had returned from another century, and he begins to physically transform as if he was an example of human evolution on fast forward. When he is lucid he wanders the hallways of the hospital searching for his wife of "500 years", Mami.

It's a truly intriguing premise and one that floats a film that would have normally been sunk by its low budget and sometimes stagey performances, especially Horiuchi's as Kuroda who has his own dreams and visions of a girl named Kana. A lot of the credit for this has to be laid at the feet of Junji Ito, the horror manga artist whose "Uzumaki" was also adapted to the screen by Higuchinsky. Like that other film it's the fear of a slow descent into madness that drives the characters and that provides the real chills for the audience. One choice that I found really effective was that we never get to see any of Mukouda's marathon dreams. Spending a decade as a soldier lost in a jungle who eats his own feet to survive, spending nine years trapped in "exam hell", even the simple but excruitaingly uncomfortable predicament of looking for a rest room for eight years, all of these are recounted in onscreen interviews with Mukouda, allowing our imaginations to fill in the terrible gaps.

While by no means a total success "Long Dream" does have a truly original premise and delivers a real vintage "Twilight Zone" feel. I'm sure that the inevitable remake will have a much higher budget, but there's no guarantee that a "bigger is better" mentality would benefit this "Long Dream".

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