♦Tripwire editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS reviews Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, out now on Blu-Ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection in the UK…
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Akira Terao, Mitsuko Baishô, Toshie Negishi
Kurosawa is probably the most notable 20th century Japanese film director whose career began back in the 1940s and whose work has cast a huge shadow over the likes of Martin Scorsese, Terence Malick and even Quentin Tarantino. His most notable films include Rashomon, Throne of Blood, Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, which was remade as The Magnificent Seven in 1960. Visually, Kurosawa was always hard to beat although sometimes his lesser films were a little bit slow.
Dreams was made in 1990 and while it wasn’t his last film (he went on to make two other films) it does feel a little bit like the work of a filmmaker at the end of his career. It is a series of vignettes telling tales taken from the reveries of the invisible protagonist. They each deal with classic Japanese tropes like honour, death and mysticism. Visually, Dreams is beautiful with a true dreamlike quality running through it and some vignettes are more successful dramatically than others. The man who meets the undead army is an interesting figure and the sequence where the Japanese boy goes back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh is striking. However, because of its very nature, it lacks cohesion and feels like a series of essays brought to life to explore the nature of Japanese culture and mores rather than a more compelling single narrative. The Criterion edition does look lush and colourful, bringing Kurosawa’s ideas to vibrant life on the screen. However it does lack the punch and impact of his better-known works and so it does begin to feel a little monotonous after a while.
Dreams is not without its charms and there is something for aficionados of the director’s work but it doesn’t have the power of Rashomon, Seven Samurai or even Yojimbo. The making of documentary included here is interesting but Dreams is a more minor work than his more seminal films and so this is definitely one for hardcore admirers of Kurosawa’s work.