Undeniably beautiful to look at, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990) suffers from the usual problems that plague films made up of unconnected episodes: uneven tone and level of interest. The film purports to be more or less literal depictions of eight of the filmmaker’s actual dreams. I’m a little skeptical of that notion, except perhaps in matters of tone, since the films tend to have a much better dramatic structure than actual dreams. Individual tastes will determine which of the eight dreams resonate with viewers. A few of them bore me stiff, but the overall look of the film is sufficient compensation for most of its shortcomings.
While I’ve never been completely sold on the film, I’d never deny its importance—especially to admirers of Kurosawa. Even when it doesn’t work (a subjective call), it has an identity all its own. No one ever made anything else quite like it. It’s hard to deny—even for the most enthusiastic—that Kurosawa tends to become pretty heavy-handed in the “Mount Fuji in Red,” “Weeping Demon” and “Village of the Watermills” segments, but even in these moments there are flashes of genius, and the boldness of it all is constantly admirable. The real selling point of the film—the thing that makes it something of an essential—always has been and always will be its almost unbearable beauty. On that score, Dreams never fails to deliver.