- Film Chronicle dir. by Akira Kurosawa, and: Stranger on the Third Floor by dir. by Boris Ingster, and: Spellbound dir. by Alfred Hitchcock, and: The Big Lebowski dir. by Joel and Ethan Coen, and: An American in Paris dir. by Vincente Minnelli, and: The Kid dir. by Charlie Chaplin, and: Le Grand Amour dir. by Pierre Étaix, and: Wild Strawberries dir. by Ingmar Bergman, and: A Midsummer Night's Dream dir. by Peter Hall
Dreams, also known as Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990), is highly personal, eccentric, and self-indulgent—the sort of film to be expected from a venerable and much-lauded director. Eighty years old when he shot Dreams, Kurosawa had nothing left to prove about his art, and he evidently felt free to dispense with conventional storytelling; for subject matter, he turned inward to fantasies recurrent through the nights of his life. The film's eight dream-vignettes, all given appropriate titles, usually feature a Kurosawa stand-in, a child or adult who more or less passively observes the phantasmagoric carryings-on. The adult stand-ins wear the director's trademark bucket hat, but as they gaze at dream landscapes in wonderment or dismay, they seem less filmmakers sizing up a scene than figures like ourselves in our own dreams, helpless witnesses to what our imaginations (our guilts, our longings) create.
As one would expect, the dream-vignettes vary in length, mood, and cinematic techniques appropriate to the mood. Often slow-paced—conventional movie pacing is one of the things dispensed with here—they are nevertheless likely to keep your interest. One never knows what is going to appear. In "The Tunnel" a Japanese army dog carrying explosives emerges snarling from the dark, and in "Crows" Martin Scorsese plays Vincent Van Gogh in a fantasy acted out within the artist's painted sunny landscapes. In other vignettes a female snow-ghost materializes out of a blizzard (her hand enters the frame from the side: an effective touch) and fox spirits parade sedately though also warily through a sunny and rainy forest. This is a vulpine wedding procession, and woe to the little Japanese boy who spies on it. [End Page 123]
The last vignette, "Village of the Water Mills," a utopian dream making up for the dystopian nightmares which precede it, is beautifully set out and graced with a lovely performance from the 86-year-old Chishu Ryu, an actor well-known for his appearances in Yasujiro Ozu films. "Village of the Water Mills" and all the later vignettes have important points to make, chiefly about the dangers of nuclear power and the pollution of the natural world. They employ quite a lot of dialogue, indeed speechmaking, and for that reason lack the strangeness, the inconsequentiality and unpredictability, of true dreaming. I generally preferred the less-preachy early vignettes, "Sunshine through the Rain," "The Peach Orchard," and "The Tunnel" especially, the first of them about those fox spirits, the second about the Japanese Doll Festival and its connection to blossoming peach trees, and the third, patently an expression of the dream-observer's war guilt, about a platoon of rifle-carrying soldiers emerging from the dark tunnel all present and correct, but hollow-eyed and blue-faced and dead. Largely dispensing with dialogue, the early vignettes depend for their effectiveness simply on startling imagery and on sound. The film's music was composed by Shinichiro Ikebe, who mixes Western-sounding passages with rhythmic percussion and the eerie keening...