This late-in-the-day offering from Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa — with its compendium of stories drawn from the director’s own dreams — is undeniably uneven, owing to the fragmented structure. As is often the case with “portmanteau” films, it’s simply a case of some episodes being more interesting than others. Even that can be a subjective call, of course. I’m sure there’s someone somewhere who thinks that “The Blizzard” is the best thing in the film, though it frankly bores me to distraction. So it’s a roll of the dice as to what will or won’t appeal to the individual viewer.
What is not open to question is the profound visual beauty of this masterfully crafted film. Few films are more just plain gorgeous than this one. The overall theme of man in — and out of — harmony with nature is cogently expressed, but mostly it’s the imagery that impresses — with “The Peach Orchard,” “Crows” and “The Village of the Watermills” being the most sumptuous of the stories.
“The Village of the Watermills” — the film’s closing sequence is at once the embodiment of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. Visually striking and possessing the weirdness and beauty of a very vivid dream, the sequence is meant to comment (as do several of the episodes) on the downside of progress and modernity. On the surface, it effectively puts forth exactly that view — and it does so with a degree of persuasion.
However, if you pause to examine the concept in any depth, there’s an inherent dichotomy — perhaps even hypocrisy — at work here. The sequence celebrates the idea of an earlier, more peaceful way of life in this picturesque village of the title. Fair enough, but … at one time, this would have been a very modern village (face it, historical characters didn’t think of themselves as historical characters!) and the watermills would have been the last word in modern technology. This raises the question of just when progress should stop and who should decide that. But it’s a question Kurosawa doesn’t answer, and possibly doesn’t recognize.
Such reservations to one side, Dreams is without question a visual tour de force and a major work by an important filmmaker.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Hendersonville Film Society will show Dreams on Sunday, November 6 at 2 p.m., in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to Lake Point Landing entrance and park in lot at left.)]