So. I've been gone a while and you oughtn't expect much from me in the coming month, as I'll be in a cabin away from electricity for most of it. I wanted to start sharing some film on this blog, starting with the old crazy visionaries of the 1900s and working forwards, but this film is just so timely it has to be shared now. It's also, in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made.
I really don't have much time to write, but I can say this:
This film is a complete art. It is perfect. It is the essence of cinema.
This film is life. It is dreams. It is the shadow at the corners of your eyes, come to full focus in front of you.
This film destroys time. Or at least, radically disfigures it and rebuilds it from the ground up, in a more fluid, effervescent manner.
This film is a flower in a factory, a golden cow in a field of white teeth.
Let it look through your eyes to the dark grey matter that lurks behind. Let it plant puddles in your eyes.
As people in Japan begin to put their lives back together, people in the States are discovering high levels of radiation in their foods. We all see the causes. We accept them. And the machine grinds on, because we are not willing to leave it.
Enjoy the coming month, dancing in the spring showers, planting a garden, getting up early to embrace the day. Nourish your dreams. And if you have some time, give these ones a look as well.
Eight short films with overlapping themes and characters based on the actual dreams of director Akira Kurosawa.
"From just a cinematographic point of view, Kurosawa's mastery of colour is unrivaled, and a sound reason to watch this film, yet not the only one by far. The true value of "Yume", in my opinion, is the use of the parabolas presented disguised as dreams to teach us a way of life. The absurdity of war. The beauty of nature. The need to preserve our environment. In summary: a praise to life. And yet, Kurosawa being old himself when he filmed his "Dreams", looks at death and presents it as the last station of a wonderful journey. Carpe diem, yes, but not to the point of being scared. Life will follow its course as does the river at the end of the movie, with or without us being here to enjoy it. Just be thankful for the small things in life; they are the most important. Enjoy them while you can and you will leave this existence in peace with yourself."
Review by Magicvoice:
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams is comprised of eight short films, each featuring a character named "I," who we are to assume is Kurosawa himself. The film begins with two dreams from Kurosawa's childhood and eventually move into adulthood. One tale, "Crows," expresses Kurosawa's love for the artist Vincent Van Gogh, and is the most questionable of the eight tales. An art student enters the paintings of Van Gogh and meets Van Gogh, played here by American director Martin Scorcese. It's interesting that Kurosawa cast Scorsese to play Van Gogh—perhaps he felt that only another auteur could fully grasp the creative compulsion of Van Gogh. That point is not lost on the viewer, but it still would have been preferable to cast a real actor in the part. Scorsese's New York accent just doesn't fit the film.
The best segment of Dreams is "The Tunnel," which is directed by an uncredited Ishiro Honda (Godzilla). It tells the tale of a military officer who is confronted by the spirits of his dead platoon. Heartbreakingly, the officer apologizes for his actions, which led to the death of his men. He takes responsiblity instead of simply blaming the stupidity of war—a universal theme that people today could perhaps learn from.
"Mt. Fuji in Red" and "The Weeping Demon" both deal with nuclear disaster and a post-apocalyptic world. They pretty much hit the viewer over the head with Kurosawa's (and Honda's) views on the destruction of nature and the stupidity of mankind. Since we currently live in an era where world leaders propose to cut down trees in order to avoid forest fires, some people may still need that point to be drilled into them. The last segment shows what would happen if we did things Kurosawa's way. The people in "Village of the Watermills" live at one with nature and are rewarded with health, happiness and long lives that are celebrated upon conclusion. It's the most beautiful dream of all, and a perfect ending to a great film.
Visually, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams is a masterpiece. The sets, composition and use of color are all breathtaking. The pace of some of the stories is a bit slow, but this is still a great and very underrated film. Dreams is Kurosawa's most personal work, and when it's over the viewer might feel like they've just met the man who delivered this work of art, much like "I" was somehow able to meet Van Gogh in one of his paintings. (Magicvoice 2003)
The film consists of several dreams based on Kurosawa's own, throughout his life. The dreams are eight separate segments in the following order:
Sunshine Through The Rain
There is an old legend in Japan that states that when the sun is shining through the rain, the kitsune (foxes) have their weddings. In this first dream, a boy defies the wish of a woman, possibly his mother, to remain at home during a day with such weather. From behind a large tree in the nearby forest, he witnesses the slow wedding procession of the kitsune. Unfortunately, he is spotted by the foxes and runs. When he tries to return home, the same woman says that a fox had come by the house, leaving behind a tantō knife. The woman gives the knife to the boy, implying that he must commit suicide. The woman asks the boy to go and beg forgiveness from the foxes, although they are known to be unforgiving, refusing to let him in unless he does so. The boy sets off into the mountains, towards the place under the rainbow in search for the kitsune's home.
The Peach Orchard
Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, traditionally takes place in spring when the peach blossoms are in full bloom. The dolls that go on display at this time, they say, are representative of the peach trees and their pink blossoms. One boy's family, however, has chopped down their peach orchard, so the boy feels a sense of loss during this year's festival. After being scolded by his older sister the boy spots a small girl running out the front door. He follows her to the now-treeless orchard, where the dolls from his sister's collection have come to life and are standing before him on the slopes of the orchard. The living dolls, revealing themselves to be the spirits of the peach trees, berate the boy about chopping down the precious trees. But after realizing how much he loved the blossoms, they agree to give him one last glance at the peach trees by way of a slow and beautiful dance to Etenraku. After they disappear the boy finds the small girl walking among the treeless orchard before seeing a single peach tree sprouting in her place.
A group of four mountaineers struggle up a mountain path during a horrendous blizzard. It has been snowing for three days and the men are dispirited and ready to give up. One by one they stop walking, giving into the snow and sure death. The leader endeavors to push on, but he too, stops in the snow. A strange woman (possibly the Yuki-onna of Japanese myth) appears out of nowhere and attempts to lure the last conscious man to his death - give into the snow and the storm, she urges him on, into reverie, into sleep, into certain death. But finding some heart, deep within, he shakes off his stupor and her entreaties, to discover that the storm has abated, and that their camp is only a few feet away.
A Japanese army officer is traveling down a deserted road at dusk, on his way back home from fighting in the Second World War. He comes to a large concrete pedestrian tunnel that seems to go on forever into the darkness. Suddenly, an angry, almost demonic-looking anti-tank dog (strapped with explosives) runs out of the tunnel and snarls deeply at him. He proceeds with his walk, afraid, into the tunnel. He comes out the other side, but then witnesses something horrific — the yūrei of one of the soldiers (Private Noguchi) whom he had charge over in the war comes out of the tunnel behind him, his face a light blue, signifying that he is dead.
The soldier seems not to believe he's dead, but the officer convinces him and the soldier returns into the darkness of the tunnel. Just when he thinks he's seen the worst, the officer sees his entire third platoon marching out of the tunnel. They too are dead, with light blue faces. He tries to convince them that they're dead, and he expresses his deep-seated guilt about letting them all die in the war. They stand mute, in reply to his words. He then orders them to about face, and then march back into the tunnel. Lastly, we see a second appearance of the hellish dog, from the beginning of this dream.
This is one of three "nightmares" featured in the film.
Akira Kurosawa's long time friend Ishirō Honda may have helped to direct, or have directed this piece entirely. The two always spoke of filming a story of a dead soldier returning from war.
A brilliantly-colored vignette featuring director Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh. An art student (a character wearing Kurosawa's trademark hat who provides the POV for the rest of the film) finds himself inside the vibrant and sometimes chaotic world inside Van Gogh's artwork, where he meets the artist in a field and converses with him. The student loses track of the artist (who is missing an ear and nearing the end of his life) and travels through other works trying to find him. Van Gogh's painting Wheat Field with Crows is an important element in this dream. This Segment features Prelude No. 15 in D-flat major ("Raindrop") by Chopin. The visual effects for this particular segment were provided by George Lucas and his special effects group Industrial Light and Magic.
Mount Fuji in Red
The film's second nightmare sequence. A large nuclear power plant near Mount Fuji has begun to melt down, painting the sky a horrendous red and sending the millions of Japanese citizens desperately fleeing into the ocean. Three adults and two children are left behind on land, but they soon realize that the radiation will kill them anyway.
The Weeping Demon
A man (possibly Kurosawa himself) finds himself wandering around a misty, bleak mountainous terrain. He meets a strange oni-like man, who is actually a mutated human with one horn. The "demon" explains that there had been a nuclear holocaust which resulted in the loss of nature and animals, enormous dandelions and humans sprouting horns, which cause them so much agony that you can hear them howling during the night, but, according to the demon, they can't die, which makes their agony even worse. The last of the three "nightmare" sequences. This is actually a post-apocalyptic retelling of a classic Buddhist fable of the same name.
Village of the Watermills
A young man finds himself entering a peaceful, stream-laden village. The traveller meets an old, wise man who is fixing a broken watermill wheel. The elder explains that the people of his village decided long ago to forsake the polluting influence of modern technology and return to a happier, cleaner era of society. They have chosen spiritual health over convenience, and the traveller is surprised but intrigued by this notion.
At the end of the sequence (and the film), a funeral procession for an old woman takes place in the village, which instead of mourning, the people celebrate joyfully as the proper end to a good life. This segment was filmed at the Daio Wasabi farm in the Nagano Prefecture. The film ends with a haunting yet melancholic melody from the excerpts of "In the Village" , part of the Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 1 by the Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.
Director: Akira Kurosawa, Ishiro Honda
Released by: Warner Bros.
I originally made a compressed version of this. But after returning the film, I realized that I'd forgotten to include subtitles, making it that much more opaque to Gaijins like you. So I've just uploaded the entire DVD file for your watching enjoyment. I know, it's big, but you've got a month…
get it here or here.