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Dreams of an Artist : fables, tales, not just dreams.

"American Dream" and "Self's Dream"

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No narration, of the spectator's narrative?

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Kurosawa, Japan.

Akira Kurosawa -- Dreams:

A collection of tales based upon the actual dreams of director Akira Kurosawa. "Such Dreams I Have Dreamed" -- Screenplay: Ishiro Honda and Akira Kurosawa.

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.

... 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)

Dream = Emotion ("material" of film-medium) *

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Book by Dennis DeNitto, William Herman; Macmillan, 1975 [ CHAPTER 11. Rashomon Directed by AKIRA KUROSAWA ]

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"The mood of "Dreams," which is the 80-year-old filmmaker's 28th picture, is far from what you'd expect. Instead of finding the director in a ruminative, self-revelatory state of mind, the film shows him at his most ceremonial and grandiose. It shows the side of him -- the least interesting side -- that's obsessed with formal ritual and Kabuki theatricality; the side that, rather than dramatize his ideas, intones lofty philosophical pronouncements about the state of man." * :

... The movie is a compilation of eight unrelated vignettes, and in form they bear a greater resemblance to fables than to dreams. The most successful of the episodes -- really only the first one is worth watching, though the second and third have their moments -- soft-pedal the didacticism.


It's shocking to see work this featureless and undistinguished come from a filmmaker as gifted as Kurosawa. There's so much uninflected, cautionary preaching, with so much sage advice being passed down, that you begin to feel as if you're watching some sort of epic after-school special.

The real problem with "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams" may be simply that the director's instinct to continue making films has outlived the inspiration needed for them to be worth the effort. As a younger man he might have had the energy to triumph over his bad ideas and his deficiencies of taste. It's hard to look at this movie, though, without thinking that it could never have been anything but make-work, something to do until something better came along. In making "Dreams," Kurosawa seems to working reflexively, making a film because making films is what he does.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

By Hal Hinson -- the name of the Staff Writer



dreams = Yume (1990)

Auteur : A French word, meaning author. The auteur theory of film criticism, evolved primarily by the French film critics writing for Cahiers du Cinéma from the late 1940s onward, suggests that every film in a director's canon bears the characteristic imprint of his style or artistic vision, as these have been realized by the actors and technicians working under his control. In this sense, the theory goes, the film director is as much the true author of his own work as is a poet, a painter, a composer or any other artist. Andrew Sarris, among other American critics, uses the auteur theory as his standard of criticism; to a large extent, so do we. As auteur critics, however, we do not fall into what Pauline Kael says is the trap in this theory, that is, that the use of this single standard sometimes forces its exponents to praise bad films simply because they are the work of an auteur.
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams is a series of eight short narratives that compose a complete movie. Each story could stand by itself, but I believe these stories have a narrative thread which binds them together. There are commonalities that cement them together and when I finished watching it each time I felt that I had watched just one movie; it was put together in such a way that the stories somehow flowed together. I will give a brief synopsis of each story within the movie and proceed with going into greater depth in analyzing a few of the segments.

The first piece, titled "Sunshine Through The Rain", opens with a young boy whose mother warns him not to go out this day because the sun in shining and it is raining. On days when the weather is like this foxes have their wedding processions and do not like to be watched. The boy runs out, finds the procession and is soon seen by the foxes. They get to his house before he does and give his mother a knife with which he is to kill himself. He goes to find the foxes forgiveness at their house, underneath a rainbow.

"The Peach Orchard", the next segment, involves another little boy, who brings one too many treats to his sister on "Doll Day" because he sees another girl. He follows the girl onto a stepped hill where many people are dressed up like dolls and confront him for his family cutting down the peach trees which were on that very land and this day is to celebrate the peach blossoms. He sticks up for himself and tells of his sadness about the affair; the dolls understand and allow him one last look at the orchard as it was.

* The third part, "The Blizzard", is about four men climbing up a mountain in the snow and their hope for survival as a snow storm approaches. The men all argue and begin to walk more slowly as the snow blows harder and harder. The leader is the only one who wants to keep going until they get to the next camp, everyone else is ready to give up. They all fall down in the snow to take a break. The leader is approached by a spirit who gives him the strength to survive and when the snow dies down the camp is right in front of them. The three other men who look dead until this point, get up and walk toward the camp.

* A man is walking through a tunnel in the next story, called "The Tunnel", where he meets a dog and the members of the platoon which commanded. This would not be strange except for the fact that they were all killed in battle and believe that they are still alive. He was responsible for their deaths and survived to be taken prisoner. He tells them they are not alive and apologizes for getting them killed and send them on their way back into the tunnel.

In "Crows", the fifth segment, an art student is in a museum studying Van Gogh's paintings when suddenly he is transported into the scene of one of his paintings of a bridge. He asks the women (in French!) washing clothes by the bridge where he might find Van Gogh. They tell him, but warn him that he has been in a lunatic asylum. He finds Van Gogh (played by Martin Scorcese) who talks to him (in English) about painting and how he cannot waste any of his time dealing with him. The man asks him (in English) about his ear to which Van Gogh replies he was painting a self-portrait, could not get the ear right, and so he cut it off. Van Gogh leaves him and the man begins to see everything as a Van Gogh painting. As he walks back through the village, he walks through Van Gogh's paintings. At the end he is back in the museum.

The sixth part, "Mount Fuji in Red", starts with a scene of total chaos. People are running everywhere, in every direction carrying their belongings. It appears that Mt. Fuji is about to erupt, but in truth the nuclear power plant behind the mountain has exploded and the five reactors will explode one by one spewing cancer-causing clouds to form and blow over the people. The man meets up with another man and a woman with her two children. The woman is scared for her children and talks about how nuclear power was supposed to be safe. The man tells them that he was one of the people responsible for the problem and for lying to the people, then he jumps into the ocean. The man tries to protect the woman and her children from the red dusty wind blowing which carries some disease-causing particles.

"The Weeping Demon" involves a man who is walking across a black wasteland when he meets what appears to be a man in tattered clothes. This man was turned into a demon when he survived the attacks of nuclear bombs and missiles. The fallout from the attacks caused the land to turn to black rocks and the plants to mutate. The demon shows the man dandelions as big as humans and roses with stems growing out of them. Humans and animals are also mutated. The animals are so mutated that they cannot be eaten so the demons have worked out a hierarchy- the demons with more horns eat the demons with less and serve their punishment of immortality. The more horns a demon has, the more pain one feels and the more one has done to deserve the horns. The demon's horn has just started to hurt and approaches the man to become a demon also.

In "Village of the Watermills", a man comes into a town on a river which has many, many watermills. He finds an old man (Ryu Chishu, who also played the grandfather in Tokyo Story) who talks with him about the village. This village has no name, has no electricity, and is very close to nature. The man explains the good nature of the people through a ritual of putting flowers on a stone where the villagers once buried a traveler who died there. He talks about they only use firewood from trees that have fallen down on their own. This old man criticizes the way people live nowadays and how they treat the environment with no respect, which will end up with their deaths. As the two talk, they hear music approaching and the old man explains it is a funeral, the town celebrates hard work and living to old age which nearly everyone does in the village.

Personal dreams... and "American Dream"? Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990), surreal vignettes that present an apocalyptic vision of human civilization... Not here?

* In 1989 he received an Academy Award for the body of his work.

Why dreams? RUSSIAN FILMMAKER Andrey Tarkovsky has written, "Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual." Dreams and "timeless"?

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