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For, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa made only two more films after this one, but in his 70s and 80s he had lost none of his prowess as a writer-director, and this one is being justly revived on home video with a new Blu-ray transfer from the boutique label Criterion Collection. This review ran in the Deseret News on Sept. 28, 1990.

There are some who will find “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams” tedious and self-indulgent, and to be honest, it is sometimes both. But Kurosawa is a singular talent in the world of moviemaking who follows his own vision. And sometimes, to get the full effect, audience members just have to go with it.

Personally, I went with it and found “Dreams” most rewarding.

“Dreams” will not go down in film history as a rival for the great Japanese director’s best work, which includes such classics as “Seven Samurai,” “Yojimbo,” “Roshomon,” “Ran” and many others. Taken on its own level, however, it is artistic and entertaining, despite some heavy-handed anti-nuclear and pro-environment messages.

This anthology film is made up of eight short stories, parables if you will, all actually taken from dreams the 80-year-old filmmaker has had over the years. As such, bringing them to the screen in a scant two hours is an arduous task even for the best of the world’s cinematic artists.

Some stories are going to get short shrift, others are likely to seem obscure if not unfathomable — but there are also bound to be some gems. And the gems here are well worth waiting for.


Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh in 'Akira Kurosawa's Dreams.'

Each story has a character that is apparently meant to represent the young Kurosawa, since it is logical that he would be the protagonist in his own dreams.

The stories range from an odd little yarn about a youngster who wanders out into the rain against his mother’s orders to witness a fox wedding processional to a mountain-climbing expedition seduced by a fairy that may actually be a deceitful spectre of death to a military officer who is haunted by men he led to death during battle.

There are also a couple of histrionic anti-nuclear tales toward the end of the film, the first about a nuclear explosion that wipes out millions and the next about mutations caused by radiation.

But the most enjoyable stories are those with a lighter tone, most significantly one knockout sequence that has the young Kurosawa meeting Vincent Van Gogh, then finding himself actually walking through a series of Van Gogh paintings that become three-dimensional landscapes. (Director Martin Scorsese plays Van Gogh and Akira Terao, who was in Kurosawa’s “Ran,” plays the young Kurosawa.)


Also excellent are a yarn about a young boy who sees dolls come to life to lament the chopping down of an orchard of peach trees and the final story, with Terao in what is apparently a post-apocalyptic period where he meets up with a 103-year-old villager (86-year-old Chishu Ryu) who talks about the importance of forsaking modern “conveniences” and returning to the earth.

All in all, “Dreams” is uneven and slow but occasionally brilliant. Long after seeing them, several of these stories linger in the mind and provoke a rich sense of wonder.

How many movies these days can do that?

“Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams” is rated PG for some intense sequences but nothing offensive. It is in Japanese and French with English subtitles, and partially in English.