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Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams: Showcase of Color, Design, and Emotion

BenQ
2020/10/26

One of the last films made by legendary director Akira Kurosawa, Dreams came out in 1990 and presented a somewhat different experience from previous movies helmed by Kurosawa. As the title plainly states, the motion picture consists of several short tales, each inspired by visions that came to Kurosawa in his dreams.

That surreal approach works wonders for fans of eclectic visuals styles, and thankfully the Criterion Collection Blu-ray takes the original 4K master and showcases it in marvelous detail. This is definitely a highly recommended film for home cinema enthusiasts with a good 4K projector capable of HDR presentation. 

Toying with Reality

While Kurosawa is best remembered for dramatic works and most often invokes the black and white look known as “Kurosawa mode”, Dreams is arguably one of the most colorful movies ever produced. It’s also not so much dramatic as emotional, with each of the eight stories (or dreams) modulating the realm of the real with everything from whimsy to outright horror. But don’t worry, it’s not the kind of gruesome horror you may expect, rather the fearful sensation we have in nightmares. Indeed, Dreams doesn’t just look great, it genuinely feels like a series of seemingly disconnected dreams. But there’s definitely a common thread to all of them, you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself.

If you’re familiar with Kurosawa’s milieu but haven’t seen Dreams yet, which is a common occurrence as Dreams was probably his least commercially successful release, then you owe it to yourself to watch this now. 

Surreal Rainbow

Takao Saito was the primary cinematographer for Dreams, and had a long working relationship with Kurosawa, which meant they knew how to get things done together. Shoji Ueda also contributed photography to Dreams, though it’s not clear which segments featured which photographer’s work.

What matters most, though, is the richness of the visuals on display here, and that’s why you need a really good projector to make the most of Dreams. This was intentional, as every segment has a unique color palette, and one openly references Vincent Van Gogh and his fields of sunflowers. Van Gogh is even played by Martin Scorsese, a close friend of Kurosawa.

We don’t want to spoil the plots of each dream, but they’re extremely varied and have a lot to do with regrets of the past and fears of the present and future. Almost all of them feature regular Kurosawa cast member Akira Terao in a lead role.

Post WWII Japan gets referenced in the dark dream The Tunnel, worries about nuclear power manifest in the fire-dominated Mount Fuji in Red, while The Blizzard is all about snow, ice, and white color schemes. Then The Peach Orchard and Village of the Watermills pay tribute to nature, and have so many colors in them they’re almost impossible to describe. 

Preservation Matters

We strongly recommend Dreams to anyone who appreciates visual arts and mastery of color in storytelling. Doubly so because Dreams has largely been forgotten by the mainstream, and even many Kurosawa fans appear oblivious to its importance.

Luckily the Blu-ray edition not only offers spectacular visuals, but a load of extra features and interviews that do this milestone movie justice. If more people get hold of the disc and sit down to enjoy Dreams, its legacy will be cemented and this important movie will no longer fade like something dreamt long ago. 

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