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Akira Kurosawa
Akira Terao, Mitsuko Baisho, Toshie Negishi, Mieko Harada, Mitsunori Isaki
Writing Credits:
Akira Kurosawa

A collection of tales based upon the actual dreams of director Akira Kurosawa.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/15/2016

• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Stephen Prince
• “Making of Dreams” Documentary
• “Kurosawa’s Way” Documentary
• Interview with Script Supervisor Teruyo Nogami
• Interview with Assistant Director Takashi Koizumi
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Akira Kurosawa's Dreams: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1990)

Reviewed by David Williams and Colin Jacobson (November 13, 2016)

Starting with 1965’s Red Beard, Akira Kurosawa essentially embraced a “five-year plan”: every five years, the director created a new film. This continued for 25 years up until 1990’s Dreams. Kurosawa stepped up his pace after Dreams and made two more movies before he retired for good.

Those last two efforts – 1991’s Rhapsody in August and 1993’s Maadadayo - didn’t make a dent in the US, but Dreams received a fair amount of attention. Unlike Kurosawa’s other efforts, Dreams actually got backing from US sources, as the director relied on high-powered fans like Steven Spielberg to find the money.

As I recall, Dreams also earned a reasonable level of publicity in the States. This didn’t translate to profits – the movie made less than $2 million US – but Dreams certainly received a higher degree of attention than the vast majority of other foreign language films.

A collection of eight fantasy sequences, writer/director Kurosawa claims that his actual dreams inspired the material. He turned them into a poetic screenplay that doesn’t really deliver a narrative as much as it provides hauntingly beautiful and loosely related sequences.

Admittedly, Dreams requires strong focus and attention to find the macrobiotic structure contained within the film and its stories, but the more you watch, the more you understand … and the more the film speaks to you.

While growing up, Kurosawa was a huge fan of Hollywood Westerns. This led him to correlate the Samurai culture with the Western gunslinging culture in such classic films as Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai. At the time, little did Kurosawa know that his sagas would influence Western genre greats such as The Magnificent Seven and some of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns.

In Dreams, Kurosawa uses a character named “I” (Akira Terao) to loosely connect each of the segments, as he serves as our conduit for each of these individual, surreal journeys that begin with “Sunshine Through The Rain” and “The Peach Orchard”. In these episodes, we meet I as a little boy and we are able to catch a glimpse of the director’s love for nature and the environment, as well as how he sees mankind connect with them.

In “Sunshine”, young I is told not to venture out in to the forest, as a period of rain in the village has been followed by a period of sunshine. He learns that it’s on days like this that foxes hold their wedding ceremonies and processions – and they do not like being watched. Being mischievous, he goes anyway and is quickly discovered by the foxes and must pay the price for spying on them. The punishment is quite harsh, but the forgiveness is absolutely beautiful.

In “Orchard”, I encounters some ornate dolls and he follows them to his family’s peach orchard. The dolls are upset that the family has felled all of the trees in the orchard, and their graceful dances and processions tell the story of their contempt.

The next two episodes offer “The Blizzard” and “The Tunnel”, and both are much more bleak and uninviting than our two previous outings. In these two segments, we find ourselves - as well as I - in deep meditations about gloomy subjects like death and war.

“Blizzard” deals with a group of four men from a mountain climbing expedition who get lost in a blizzard and stand on the verge of death. All but the leader of the group feel ready to stop and rest, but the leader knows that if they fall asleep, they will surely die.

In “The Tunnel”, we meet a military commander who returns home from war as the only survivor from his regiment. On his way back home, he meets his ghostly comrades and they begin their plaintive march towards town. This sequence delivers an emotional impact.

Next up comes “The Crow”, in which an art student literally becomes transferred into a Van Gogh painting. As he walks through the gorgeous landscapes and countrysides that the artist transversed, he meets the painter himself (Martin Scorsese).

In an elegant sequence, the artist and the admirer stroll through many of the artist’s paintings and Van Gogh espouses many of Kurosawa’s opinions and attitudes about art. Visually stunning and very playful, this becomes a really nice sequence.

The next two episodes jump back into more somber subject matter as they reiterate Kurosawa’s strong feelings against nuclear power/technology, as well as his stance against war and the destruction it causes. In “Mt. Fuji in Red”, a nuclear power plant executive/scientist helplessly watches the devastation that occurs when the power plant experiences a meltdown. With the plant positioned behind Mt. Fuji, it makes it look as if the great volcano springs to life once again. We find very haunting and disturbing imagery here and it’s quite obvious the point that Kurosawa is trying to make about the arrogance of science and the dangers of nuclear power/energy.

During “The Weeping Demon”, we see someone walking across a charred and barren wasteland that was once the earth as we know it. A demon approaches the man and explains that he was turned into a demon after surviving the nuclear attacks. The fallout from the missiles caused plants and animals to severely mutate and because of that, those left have had to resort to cannibalism.

However, there’s a hierarchy involved, as the demons with more horns eat the demons with fewer. It seems that the more horns a demon has, the more harm it did to humanity during its life and therefore, it feels more pain with each and every horn it grows.

The horns serve as some cosmic justice/curse on the demon and immortality in this “hell on earth” serves as part of their punishment. Here, Kurosawa seems to portray what he sees as a fitting fate for government officials and arrogant humans everywhere who think the world should be ruled with nuclear authority. While the “hell on earth” imagery seems haunting, the sequences can become a bit preachy.

Kurosawa finishes off Dreams with “Village of the Watermills”, a snippet that espouses the advantages of the simple life and the serenity and tranquility it brings. A hiker happens upon a small village and sits down with an elderly resident to discuss the pace and way of life there.

It’s an affirming way to close things out and it reinforces Kurosawa’s belief that we should do all we can to commune peacefully with nature. As the two talk, they hear music approach from the distance and the old man explains that it is a funeral - the town feels that hard work and living to old age are things that should be celebrated, not mourned. This delivers a fitting end and an inspiring lesson.

Some folks think that Dreams was a bit self-indulgent and overdone, a visually striking film that at times, borders ever-so-slightly on gaudiness and flamboyance. But there’s a much larger contingent that tells this crowd to enjoy the film for what it is: a breathtaking and magical journey that delivers a fine summation to an incredible career.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie enjoyed an excellent presentation.

Overall sharpness looked terrific. Any softness came from intentional “dreaminess” to fit the fables, so the majority of the flick appeared distinctive and well-defined. No issues with shimmering or jaggies occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent in this clean image.

Colors varied from episode to episode. This meant they could be lively and vivid at times but also became chilly and desaturated. Within the visuals choices, the hues appeared full and rich. Blacks came across as deep and dark, while shadows seemed smooth and clear. I felt wholly pleased by this terrific transfer.

Though not quite as memorable, the film’s DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack worked fine given its age. Much of the time, the soundfield lacked a ton of ambition, but it came to life on occasion. For instance, “The Blizzard” used the driving snow to involve the listener with material, and a few other sequences added good auditory information as well.

Much of the movie emphasized a sparse soundtrack, though, so don’t expect showier segments like that to be the rule. A lot of the film focused on low-key ambience and music, without a lot of sonic pizzazz. Still, it picked up when necessary and created a sonic landscape that suited the tales.

Audio quality satisfied. Speech occasionally sounded a little artificial – due to looping – but the lines offered good clarity overall. Music was lively and full, while effects showed nice range and impact. I thought the track seemed more than satisfactory for this project.

This Criterion Blu-ray comes with a mix of extras, and we open with an audio commentary from film scholar Stephen Prince. He provides a running, screen-specific look at story/character areas, aspects of director Akira Kurosawa’s life and how these elements impact the film, cinematography and music, sets and locations, editing, and related production notes.

At times, Prince tends to narrate the movie without a lot of insight. However, this trend decreases as the film progresses, and we get greater depth as Prince goes. Despite some slow spots, Prince usually gives us an informative chat.

Two documentaries follow. Making of Dreams runs two hours, 30 minutes, 39 seconds and mainly consists of shots from the movie shoot. We also get occasional clips from an interview with Akira Kurosawa as well as soundbites from cast/crew on the set, but the elements taken from the production itself dominate.

Normally I love this kind of “fly on the wall” material, but I must admit “Making”” largely leaves me cold. Maybe this becomes a case of oversaturation, as 150 minutes of footage threatens to become tiresome.

The interview bits with Kurosawa add some value, but they appear fairly infrequently. “Making” surely offers a wealth of material but it doesn’t seem as fascinating as I’d like.

During the 52-minute, 10-second Kurosawa’s Way, we get a 2011 documentary that offers comments from filmmakers Clint Eastwood, Bernardo Bertolucci, Abbas Kiarostami, Hayao Miyazaki, Martin Scorsese, Julie Taymor, Theo Angelopoulos, Alejandro G. Innaritu, Tsukamoto Shin’ya, John Woo and Bong Hoon-Jo.

The participants discuss their impressions of Kurosawa’s work and the impact these films had on them. This becomes a decent compilation of thoughts, but I don’t think it ever offers anything terrific. While “Way” offers a reasonable overview of Kurosawa’s methods/importance, it seems a little too general and scattershot.

Two interviews come next. The first features Script Supervisor Teruyo Nogami and lasts 17 minutes, 23 seconds. Nogami discusses her long-time working relationship with Kurosawa but mostly concentrates on elements related to the creation of Dreams. Nogami gives us a nice collection of observations.

An interview with Assistant Director Takashi Koizumi goes for 16 minutes, three seconds. Like Nogami, Koizumi mainly focuses on aspects connected to Dreams. Koizumi gives us another useful and informative chat.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the package concludes with a 32-page Booklet. It provides an essay from critic Bilge Ebiri as well as the text for an unfilmed “ninth dream”. It finishes the set well.

With its lack of a traditional narrative, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams will not prove effective for all. Those with an affinity for visual filmmaking should embrace this inventive effort, however. The Blu-ray presents excellent visuals with good audio and a largely informative set of bonus materials. Criterion presents a strong release.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of DREAMS

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