Directed by Akira Kurosawa. 1990.

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Dreams, one of the last films of acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, is a visually stunning but often heavy handed collection of eight episodes loosely woven around the theme of man’s disrespect for the environment and his warlike nature. The tales are mostly highly structured and linear, having little in common with actual dreams which are often confusing, disjointed, illogical, and highly symbolic. The first two dreams are the most successful because they teach by implication not by speeches. 

In the first segment, “Sunshine Through the Rain”, the protagonist is a little boy, only identified as “I” (Akira Terao). The boy sees a wedding of foxes dressed in kabuki-like outfits in the forest, an event forbidden for a human to observe. On returning home, his mother bars the door and gives the boy a knife to kill himself or otherwise ask the foxes to forgive his transgressions. The boy walks in the woods looking for the fox’s lair and discovers a beautiful rainbow in a big orchard. Filmed with bright colors, Kurosawa seems to be saying that man must understand his limitations when it comes to nature or suffer long term consequences. 

The second episode called “The Peach Orchard” laments man’s destruction of the natural world. An older boy is distraught when spirits blame him somewhat illogically for the destruction of trees in a peach orchard.  They discover, however, that the boy is also sad about the loss of the trees and they perform a ritual dance that allows him one last vision of the peach trees in all their natural wonder. This episode may reference the Japanese belief that guilt and shame are passed from generation to generation. 

“The Blizzard” is a slow-paced but haunting segment that deals with a group of four mountain climbers who are near death after becoming lost in a blizzard. Covered in snow and running out of the desire to continue, they encounter a mysterious snow spirit known in Japanese myth as a “yuki-onna” (no, not Yoko Ono) who, despite I’s struggle to escape her grasp, helps the men to locate their destination. Other segments include “The Tunnel”, a strong anti-war tale about a returning soldier who, in the mouth of a tunnel, encounters the ghosts of a dead platoon he led into battle. The episode makes its point but goes on too long until its message becomes preachy. “Crows” is a gorgeously surreal segment in which an artist visits a museum and enters Van Gogh’s paintings, even encountering Van Gogh himself, played by Martin Scorsese. 

Though their message is a good one, the final three segments, “Mount Fuji in Red”, “The Weeping Demon” and “Village of the Watermills” are among the weakest. “Mount Fuji in Red” deals with the aftermath of World War III as people are driven to a beach near an erupting Mount Fuji to escape the radiation. In “The Weeping Demon” the world experiences transformation after the war and radiation has created a species of demons that roam the earth and threaten the few remaining humans. In the last dream, “I” finds himself in an idyllic village where men live simply and in harmony with the earth. The images have a strong impact but the conversation soon becomes tedious and Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams ends on a serene but platitudinous note. 


Howard Schumann
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