(One Day I cut an alphabetical swatch through my DVD collection for shits and giggles. Picking the first film that inspired me to write in alphabetical order. This is the result.)
You see a lot of euphemisms thrown around reviews of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Words like “stately” “deliberate” and “deeply personal.” All the phrases desperately trying to dance around what the writer really thinks. So let’s get this out of the way, Dreams isn’t just deliberate, it is occasionally as slow as molasses in January. Dreams is a film that requires patience There are no two ways about it. But it is also a film, which rewards patience. Both for the insights it gives into the artist who created and it and as a work of art in and of itself.
It is fascinating if only for the rare occasion of seeing a director usually so preoccupied making films about others finally turning the camera on himself. When Fellini made Roma no one was particularly surprised. But Kurosawa had always been such an unselfconscious filmmaker. Nevertheless the artist reflected in Dreams is surely the same as one who made Kurosawa’s films. All the preoccupations are there, his countries past and uncertain future. His awe at mankind’s boundless capacity for good and sorrow for the equally boundless capacity for evil. His praise for the individual. His love of community and fear of the mob. All are reflected in the eight vignettes he puts together.
“Your mileage will vary” may as well be the tagline for the film. Personally I have a great deal of affection for "Sunshine Through The Rain" and "The Peach Orchard", both of which view Japanese folklore through the matter of fact eyes of a child in a way that reminds me of nothing so much as the films of Guillermo Del Toro. "Crows", which features Martin Scorsese as a Van Gogh is another winner for me (I love the way he delivers the line, “The sun compels me to paint!”) Lovely choreographed to Chopin’s “Raindrops” it features a Kurosawa Stand in (wearing his trademark slouch hat) wandering through Van Gogh’s canvases courtesy of ILM (back when that last phrase inspired anticipation rather then fear).
"The Tunnel", "Mount Fuji In Red", and "The Weeping Demon" all contain some of the most potent imagery of Kurosawa’s career. With images from each that are literally unforgettable. The vast column of the dead marching from the gaping tunnel, the titular spectacle in "Red", and the long montage of the great mass of men writhing in agony, arguably the central motif of the latter period of Kurosawa’s career, that concludes "Demon". But all three are too uneven and at the end too stagy to work on their own as shorts.
Only "The Blizzard", really falls short for me. As I chastised others for mincing words in the opening paragraph perhaps I should clarify that by “falls short” I of course mean “Is nigh unwatchable.” An interminably paced vignette that doesn’t go anywhere or mean anything, "The Blizzard" is the one time where Dreams actually feels as pointless as a coworker trying to tell you all about the really odd dream he had last night. Trust me dear readers “The Blizzard” is what the skip scene button on DVD’s were invented for. It’s a handy place to take a smoke break if you happen to catch the film at a revival. But aside from that there’s not much to recommend it.
The film concludes with "Village Of The Watermills". Which is a microcosm for the film as a whole in a lot of ways. It’s slow and a bit preachy. But it’s also quite beautiful, and I can’t help but find it’s gentle affirmation of the human spirit to be very moving. The fact is I feel better after watching the closing moments of Dreams. There are those who accuse its ending of being a lecture. I say let it be, as a filmmaker who has given so much the very least I owe Kurosawa is a few minutes of polite attention to let him have his say.