Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Ten Nights of Dreams - various (2006)

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

Written by author Natsume Soseki as a series of ten short stories, the fantastical dreams of the 2006 film "Ten Nights Of Dreams" cover a wealth of fleeting moments and feelings via different styles and tones. Soseki became quite an accomplished and famous author in his relatively short life - succumbing to a stomach ulcer at the age of 49, he still wrote very popular novels such as "Botchan" and "I Am A Cat" - and was granted the honour of appearing on the 1000 Yen bank note from 1984-2004. He must have been drawn to the device of using dreams for these stories, because it lets him dabble across a variety of different themes without really having to be concerned about specific plot or character continuity. That's not to say that there's no structure to the individual stories, but be prepared to just let yourself float with each individual director's visualization of their interpretation of Soseki's writing.

11 different directors take the helm (2 collaborating on one film and another handling both a film and the prologue/epilogue sequences), so there's enough change of pace to keep the viewer on their toes. Like most anthology films, you have to be ready every so often to switch gears and reset yourself as a new story begins (about every 10 minutes or so in this case), but it shouldn't be too much of a challenge here since whatever perceived reality you've assumed for any one story is tenuous at best...The film is really asking for the viewer to simply just give in to the dreams and pick and choose your own meanings and ideas from the thoughts flying around you. Though the prologue sets up the idea of a riddle of the Ten Nights Of Dreams, I can't help but think that's simply thrown into the mix to encourage the viewer (or reader in the case of the original stories) to attempt to make connections between the dreams simply as an exercise in creative thinking. There's no obvious through line across the stories, but more than one of the segments touched on themes like loneliness, the relative nature of time and the fragility of childhood memories. And they each have their own way of making you feel somewhat unsettled.

The opening two dreams (the second being one of Kon Ichikawa's final films) are confusing affairs that don't seem to have any foothold in linear time. Though somewhat slow moving, they set the stage with their eye catching (though completely different) visual approaches and allow the quicker paced, more entertaining middle section of the film to get away with a lot more - the third and fourth segments have nods to J-Horror while the fifth borders on lunacy (but has a great final sequence). The sixth segment is one of my favorites - artist Uneki dances robotically for the majority of the film (his dance sequence wouldn't have felt out of place in a film such as "Funky Forest") before carving out a huge head from wood with one strike to it. The seventh uses some interesting animation techniques to create a fine feast for the eyes, but suffers somewhat with an awkward English voice over which might be characterized as ponderous...So there's quite the variety of tone to each story, but that's to be expected when your list of directors includes Ichikawa, Takashi Shimizu ("Ju-On: The Grudge"), Nobuhiro Yamashita ("Linda, Linda, Linda"), Akio Jissoji ("Rampo Noir") and Yudai Yamaguchi ("Battlefield Baseball"). Yamaguchi's closing segment, by the way, is the funniest twisted story of the bunch. Let's just say I'm off pork for awhile...

With only a few slow spots, the film succeeds at not only making me want to read the original stories, but also to understand Soseki himself as well as the many and varied viewpoints of the cast of directors. The lack of consistency in the approaches to the source material is in my mind a benefit to the film as a whole. I mean, do your dreams always look the same?

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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