The Dreams of Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990) is said to be based on his own dreams, it is therefore a collection of 8 short vignettes and not a film with a well drawn plot like the Seven Samurai.

The first sequence “Sunshine through the rain”is what Kurosawa is supposed to have had as a child and indeed, this and the second one “The Peach Orchard” are most poignant.

And “The Tunnel” where the ghosts of the men that the army commander has sent out to die haunt him. “You may think you were heroes, but you died like dogs”, he tells the still obedient ghosts.

He is chased by a barking dog with bombs strapped around it towards the end of the sequence. One wonders what personal aspect from Kurosawa’s life comes in in this sequence.

I personally liked the one based on Van Gogh’s painting “The Crows”- a self- portrait of the artist underlining his commitment to art. This one has some of the most ravishing moments in the movie- as the young man wades through some of Van Gogh’s paintings, I understand that this is where Spielberg’s special effects were used- to a most dramatic effect.

The opening scene is also reminiscent of the writer in Shyam Benegal’s Sooraj Ka Saatvaan Ghoda whose memory of his younger days is revived while looking at a painting .

In “Blizzard” it is the super human effort of a team of mountaineers who finally reach their camp after surviving a blizzard- again something that brings out the tenacity of purpose.

Mt Fuji in Red and The Weeping Demon bring out the horrors of a nuclear holocaust- it has to be remembered Kurosawa came from the only country that has experienced the devastation caused by two atomic bombs but also that the peace movement was a major involvement for many before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

“Village of the Watermills” is both a requiem to himself as well as a most enigmatic work in the film. If this is a dream that Kurasawa had when he was very old and approaching the end of his life, it is understandable since the sequence shows a blissful village untrampled by technology and where cows and horses are used in place of tractors and candles in place of electricity- “for people grow used to convenience”- an old, 103 year old man lectures to the young man who is passing by the village.

The work is engimatic because no such idyllic, self- contained village has ever existed, a village too has its social classes and its constant struggle with nature. Indeed, Kurasawa must have been aware of this contradiction- for the old man mentions in passing that no one actually lived in the village.

Before watching the movie, I was unsure how Kurosawa would handle a film in color, having been familiar with his work in black and white- and the least one can say is that he has handled it with the aplomb of the genius that he demonstrated in his black and white films. The painting- like frames rescue even the most dreary of the sequences from banality.

If more people had dreams like Akira Kurosawa- and made movies like he did, I would be glued to the cinema.

The Village of the Watermills Part I (from Youtube)

The Village of the Watermills Part II (from Youtube)

Thanks to Rajesh for having prodded me into watching Dreams
Van Gogh’s Painting “The Crows” Source
Akira Kurosawa’s image Source

7 thoughts on “The Dreams of Akira Kurosawa

  1. good post bhupinder. I have seen it but I remembered only a couple of episodes clearly. The videos refreshed my memories. there is a serenity in the way in which he represents the dreams which is actually quite strange…

    Luis Bunuel was a great surrealist filmmaker. He was a radical social critic and used surrealism and dream symbolism to lambast religion, nationalism, puritanism, bourgeois hypocrisy and lots of other things… I like his films a lot.

  2. I am not much of a movie watcher, but Akira Kurosawa is one director who absolutely enthralls me.

    Initially, I was sceptical about watching a color movie by him, but was truly mesmerised.

    If Kurosawa dreamt like the way the child in the first two clips does, it is no wonder that he turned out to be such a genius !

    No idea about Luis Bunuel, do you recommend any particular one by him?

  3. A nice post, bhupinder. Kurosawa originally trained as a painter, but only became a film director when that didn’t work out in the 1930s Japan. Therefore, when he took up filming in colour, he really used the colour as well.

    If you are interested in Kurosawa’s use of colour, do watch Ran and Kagemusha, as both are almost like live paintings. In fact, Kurosawa painted these two stories (like he did with Dreams) before he shot them — you can see some pictures on my Kurosawa website if you are interested:

    Finally, if I can jump into the Bunuel topic, my personal favourites would be El Ángel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel), Belle de Jour and Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire).

    Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is also very good, and if you enjoy something like Monty Python, that is definitely worth a watch. It is also sort of connected to the topic of your post, as the film (or as far as I can understand anything about it) deals with dreams within dreams.

  4. bunuel started his career with the european surrealist movement. along with Salvador Dali made two films which are considered to be like standard texts of surrealism — Un Chien Andalou and L’age d’or. They are both quite avant-garde and theoretical films.

    He later moved to narrative cinema (at least comparatively speaking) and made films in Mexico, returned back to Spain, and finally settled in France and made films in french. My three favourite narrative films would be, The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie, The Exterminating Angel and Viridiana. He has made lots of films, most of them very provocative and very challenging.

    some links to browse at leisure

  5. Vili- so that explains why the sequence on Van Gogh is so effusive and perhaps the best of all the films.
    Thanks too for the information on Bunuel, and you do have a most informative site on Kurosawa, you can be assured that I will be a constant visitor there !
    Alok: thanks too for the information. Bunuel is next on my list, you bet.

  6. Van Gogh was actually a big influence to Kurosawa, as you can see if you look at Kurosawa’s paintings. There is also something of Van Gogh in the way he uses colour in his films.

    I don’t know at what point you took a look at my site, but just yesterday evening I gave it a total re-design, and I must say that I am pretty happy with the new version. Now I just need to add more content, which seems to be a never-ending quest…

  7. Vili: I saw both the old and the new version of your site, it has come up very well.

    The paintings that Kurosawa painted for this movie and a wonderful collection. Thanks and keep up the good work !

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