Dreams (1990) Written and Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Akira Terao, Mitsunori Isaki, Chishu Ryu and Martin Scorcese as Vincent Van Gogh
Akira Kurosawa, Japan’s most famous director, made Dreams when he was 80 years old. Although he made several other films before his death in 1998, this film is in many ways a summation of his life and career. A person’s dreams may be of interest only to the dreamer, and this is the only script Kurosawa wrote without collaborators. He shows little concern for a realistic style, and has earned his right to moralize.
Dreams explores a lifetime of the 80- year old director’s dreams, from shimmering childhood ones to those of a rueful, but hopeful, old age. Kurosawa was never a philosopher, but a powerful image-maker, and this film illuminates his increasing disregard for realist style. Episodic films are by nature uneven. But both the magically transcendent images, and those that are less graceful, are a revealing summation of his career
Kurosawa was born in Tokyo in 1910, the youngest of 7 children. His father was strict, a military officer, but was also receptive to Western culture at a time many educated Japanese were not. He took his family to European and American films in Tokyo and his children were raised on a beloved 78-record album of “The World’s Best Classics” some of which you’ll hear in the score of Dreams. Kurosawa’s rebellious older brother, Heigo, wrote on foreign cinema, and had a job providing narrative descriptions at silent film screenings. Heigo’s suicide when Kurosawa was a young man affected his brother deeply.
At first, Kurosawa wanted to be a painter, but it was difficult to make a living. He accidentally saw an ad in the newspaper: a movie studio was looking for assistant directors; perhaps that was a way to end his financial dependence on his parents. There were over 500 applicants who were asked to do a film treatment of a story in a newspaper clipping; only a few made it to the oral examination. In his autobiography he said:” I had dabbled eagerly in painting, literature, theater, music and other arts and stuffed my head full of all the things that come together in the art of film. Yet, I had never noticed that cinema was the one field where I would be required to make use of all I had learned. I can’t help wondering what fate had prepared me so well for this road I was to take in life.”
After working as an assistant director for several years, in 1943 his first film as a director was a big hit, Sanshiro Sugata, a judo adventure. He first collaborated with his long-time star, Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel, in 1948. Then, Rashomon won raves in the West, including the 1951 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Mifune played a 12th century bandit accused of rape and murder. His story is told in four hypnotic flashbacks, each telling a version of the truth from different points of view. Kurosawa’s films from the 50s and early 60s created the legacy of one of the undisputed geniuses in film history. Many of his great films were adapted in the Hollywood. Among others, The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, and The Hidden Fortress was a source for the Star Wars films. His later films are less well known, but Dersu Uzala contains unforgettable images, as does Ran, his adaption of King Lear.
Dreams was financed by his admirers, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, with special effects courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic. The first sequence contains an almost exact replica of his childhood home; the nameplate on the gate reads: Kurosawa. The film progresses through eight episodes of youth through old age as Kurosawa attempts to refine unconscious images to a state of absolute purity.