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Akira Kurosawa's Dreams

A visually stunning, occasionally brilliant late work from one of the greatest, most influential filmmakers of all time, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams is an eight-part collection of subconscious peregrinations that treads fertile, highly evocative ground early on, only to arrive at an inelegantly preachy finale that undoes the picture. Working for the first time from a script written entirely by the director himself, the film is most poignant in its first two vignettes — "Sunshine through the Rain" and "The Peach Orchard" — which, respectively, deposit a young Kurosawa in the midst of an eerie wedding procession of "foxes" and, most hauntingly, before an angry, rebuking council of peach-tree spirits who seek to punish the boy for his family's clearing of their orchard. These segments, colorfully shot and impeccably framed, connect on a childlike level, where the consequences of even the most seemingly benign actions carry the severest of punishments. The third episode, "The Blizzard," finds an older Kurosawa and his peers lost and quarreling as they hike across a snow-swept mountain. One by one, his companions collapse due to exhaustion, leaving a still-conscious Kurosawa to be visited by a snow-spirit told of in folklore. The fourth dream, "The Tunnel," in which Kurosawa is visited by a phantom company of soldiers who are unaware that they have been slain, is by far the most effective segment in the film. A foreboding parable warning of the futility of war, it's a stunning collaboration between Kurosawa, old friend (and Godzilla creator) Ishiro Honda, and the visual-effects team at ILM, supervised by Ken Ralston (as with Kagemusha and Ran, Kurosawa received a good deal of financial assistance from George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to help realize this project). The picture turns somewhat whimsical with "Crows," a headlong dive into the universe of Vincent Van Gogh, where the director wanders through some of the artist's more famous works before encountering the man himself (played by a heavily made-up Martin Scorsese). This proves a frivolous digression before the Sturm und Drang of "Mount Fuji in Red," wherein the director imagines a fiery nuclear holocaust brought about by "human error." It's here where the rhetoric begins to get thick with strident anti-technology rants that ring hollow, stifling Kurosawa's visual imagination. The last two segments — "The Weeping Demon" and "Village of the Watermills" — are, sadly, more of the same, with the latter proving particularly grating with its lecturing tone. Even the lush, bucolic environs of the village, and the lively funeral procession that closes out the film, can't compensate for Kurosawa's clumsily composed screenplay. Still, for the moments that do work, and for the uniformly brilliant cinematography, this is a must-own for everyone who considers themselves a Kurosawa fan — which is to say, anyone who gives a damn about film. Warner's DVD presents Dreams in a perfectly fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 audio. Extras are limited to a cast-and-crew list and a brief run-through of Kurosawa's various awards. Snap-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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