One of the final films in an extraordinary career, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Kurosawa, who is widely considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, is famous largely for his samurai epics (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo) and compelling tales of humanity (Rashomon, Ikiru). Dreams is a considerable departure from the expected, diving into his own mind and recounting Kurosawa’s own personal dreams. As a series of vignettes, some dreams are far more compelling than others, and the film struggles to develop a cohesive statement. Thankfully, the Criterion release is so impressive, packing in two extra feature length films and stunning audio and visuals that it almost doesn’t matter whether the film is any good or not (fortunately, it is).
Dreams unfolds in a series of eight dreams, varying wildly from charming and full of wonder to apocalyptic nightmares. There is an enchanting lyricism throughout the film, and it is especially present in the first two dreams, which involve a fox wedding deep within a forest and a peach orchard. The whole film exhibits an absolute technical mastery: every frame perfectly presented, a stunning array of colours, and a tremendous use of lighting and shadows. Some of the dreams are a thrill to behold: “Crows”, for example, features Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh, and the aforementioned “The Peach Orchard” is a beautiful explosion of colour. However, some segments feel overlong and under-developed, and just like dreams themselves, are entirely forgettable.
Because of the dreams wild variations both in terms of quality and content, it is difficult to find a cohesive statement in the film. The love and respect of nature is certainly evident, but it often dives into a ham-fisted preachiness that makes its message of environmental preservation rather impotent. It is a shame, because in some segments the take is far more nuanced, and it is a shame that the same approach was not taken across all of the dreams.
The supplements provided on the disc do a wonderful job of heightening the source material. The commentary track is provided by film scholar Stephen Prince. Prince has an immense knowledge of Kurosawa and Japanese film as a whole, and it’s a hugely enriching experience that beautifully contextualizes the film. A feature-length documentary, Kurosawa’s Way, features eleven major filmmakers from around the world discussing the influences of Kurosawa’s films on their own work. Hearing from esteemed directors like Bertolucci, Kiarsotami, Scorsese and Miyazaki is an absolute delight, and well worth watching. Also included is Making of Dreams, a mammoth 150-minute making-of documentary Nobuhiko Obayashi (House), which provides compelling insight into Kurosawa’s filmmaking techniques. Two extensive interviews are also included: one with Kurosawa’s script supervisor for over four decades, Teruyo Nagami, and Takashi Koizumi, the assistant director of Dreams.
While the film may not be one of Kurosawa’s best, a world-class audio and video presentation and terrific special features make this an excellent package. The Criterion release of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams is a must-own for fans of the Japanese master.