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  Akira Kurosawa's Dreams Slumberland
Year: 1990
Director: Akira Kurosawa, Ishirô Honda
Stars: Akira Terao, Mitsuko Baishô, Toshie Negishi, Mieko Harada, Mitsunori Isaki, Toshihiko Nakano, Yoshitaka Zushi, Hisashi Igawa, Chôsuke Ikariya, Chishû Ryû, Martin Scorsese
Genre: FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here are eight dreams made into short films by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, starting with one from his early childhood where he was outside his family home and the rain began to fall just as the sun was still shining. His mother told him that this was the sort of weather when foxes seized the opportunity to hold their wedding celebrations, but with that in mind no human should ever try to watch them, lest they suffer their wrath. However, the little boy was not going to pay heed to his mother, and as the rain continued he headed out to the surrounding forest, burning with curiosity about the parade. Sure enough, after some searching he did manage to spy on the foxes - until they caught sight of him.

As possibly the most famous Japanese moviemaker of all time, you would have thought that by his autumn years Akira Kurosawa would have his pick of projects, with people lining up to finance them, but that was not the case as many of the potential backers from his homeland were not impressed with his script. Therefore it took a bunch of his American fans in the industry to provide the budget and in many cases the resources to complete Dreams, which led to some quirks in the eventual result, some more welcomed by his followers than others. It was not often he dabbled in outright fantasy, but this was an exception that not everyone was content with, accusing him of noodling around with half-realised themes and ideas. Pretentious self-indulgence, basically.

But Dreams still had its adherents, mostly among those who either appreciated the finer qualities of the visuals or could detect themes that the naysayers simply were not picking up on, or if they were, dismissing out of hand. Don't go thinking this was two hours of a Kurosawa stand-in wandering through shopping centres sans trousers or whatever your least favourite recurring nightmare would be - though nightmares played a part - as it may be the case that some would say there's nothing more boring than other people's dreams, but you had to have a little faith the veteran filmmaker had found a point worth getting across. Apparently these episodes really were based on his slumbering experiences, even the ones that had a political point.

It had to be mentioned that Kurosawa didn't quite have the courage of his convictions as far as bringing them to the screen went, as he had directorial assistance in the form of Godzilla's greatest pal, Ishirô Honda, the man who had done so much to put Japan's more fantastical cinema on the world map. He helmed the war-based segment where the surrogate Akira (another Akira, Akira Terao) walked down a tunnel after being barked at loudly by a war dog then on emerging was faced with his dead comrades who he had to convince were deceased and should accept their conflict was over. Honda also arranged the sequence where nuclear reactors are set off by a Mount Fuji eruption, creating an apocalypse in an eerily prescient tale some saw as a prediction of the 2011 disaster in Japan.

Kurosawa tended towards the quieter scenes, such as a stately dance number by the spirits of chopped down peach trees, or the snowbound trudge to base camp by a team of four which almost ends with their death in the arms of a winter demon, more evidence that death was playing on the director's mind as his career wound up. Everything was either connected to guilt or death, and the hope one could be coped with before the other enveloped you, with even Vincent Van Gogh not long for this world in spite of his boundless creativity when the Akira substitute meets him. Many accused Kurosawa of a bizarre misstep in casting another director, Martin Scorsese, in the role, but he does have a great opening line - "Why aren't you painting? To me this scene is beyond belief!" - and his natural passion for art makes for a convincingly driven talent. It all eases down the plot to a utopia where man and nature are in perfect harmony, acknowledging this is only a dream but also that it must say something about the waking state. An eccentricity, but intriguing with it. Music by Shinichirô Ikebe.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Akira Kurosawa  (1910 - 1998)

Japanese director and writer, and one of the most important figures in 20th century cinema. Kurosawa was greatly influenced by Hollywood - John Ford being his idol - but more than any other film-maker was responsible for introducing Japanese films to West. He originally trained as an artist and worked as a studio scriptwriter, before directing his first film in 1943, the martial arts drama Judo Saga. Kurosawa's next few films were made during World War II and had to adhere to strict state guidelines; it was 1948's gangster movie Drunken Angel that first saw the director's emerging personal vision, and was his first film to star regular leading man Toshirô Mifune.

Rashomon was the film that brought Kurosawa acclaim in the West, winning top prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, and a string of classics followed - Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai - all set in Feudal Japan and combining incredible cinematography and thrilling action with humour, sadness and deep insights into human behaviour. The director also turned in some superb non-period film around this time too, such as the thrillers The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low.

The following decade proved a frustrating one for Kurosawa, as he struggled to get projects off the ground, culminating with the box office failure of Dodesukaden and a suicide attempt in 1970. The director's fortunes turned when 1975's Russian epic Dersu Uzala won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, while his next two films were among his very best - the beautifully shot Kagemusha and 1985's spectacular, hugely successful King Lear adaptation, Ran. Kurosawa's final films were smaller and more personal - Dreams, Rhapsody in August and Not Yet. He died of a stroke in 1998, aged 88.

 
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