Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, Yume (Dreams) is a collection of stories based on Kurosawa’s own dreams as it play into the life of a man who goes through many journeys in his life from childhood to adult hood. The film is an epic of sorts that follow eight different stories that all revolve around the ideas of humanity all seen through the eyes of a boy who then becomes a man. Starring Akira Terao, Chishu Ryu, Mieko Harada, Mitsuko Baisho, and Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh. Yume is a ravishing and intoxicating film from Akira Kurosawa.
The film is essentially a collection of eight different stories all based on the dreams of a man that play into his development of his life that include encounters with nature, the dead, life away from modernism, and apocalyptic nightmares. It is a film that explore a man’s journey through humanity as well as the many ideas on life from the wonders he saw as a boy and what he would experience as a man all told in eight different stories by its creator in Akira Kurosawa. Featuring additional contributions from Ishiro Honda, all eight stories are seen from the eyes of its protagonist known as I (Akira Terao) who would encounter these events with the first two shows him as a child (Toshihiko Nakano) and as an adolescent (Mitsunori Isaki). The first segment entitled Sunshine Through the Rain is about the child encountering an event he’s not supposed to see involving a wedding between two foxes as his mother (Mitsuko Baisho) warned him not to watch this event. The second segment entitled The Peach Orchard has the adolescent I encounter a ghostly fairy (Misato Tate) mistaking her for one of his sister’s friends. There, he encounters ghosts who want to punish him for being associated with those that destroyed the peach orchard when he begs them not to where he watches a ceremony.
The remaining six episodes involve I as an adult with The Blizzard being about his time as a mountaineer with three other mountaineers trying to reach camp in a blizzard where I encounters a mysterious ghost (Mieko Harada). The Tunnel has I walking into a tunnel where he once again encounters the dead in the form of Private Noguchi (Yoshitaka Zuki) as well as the entire regiment of his platoon who all appear where I begs for their forgiveness blaming himself for being the only man that lived during the war. Crows has I as an art student where he finds himself in the world where Vincent Van Gogh is creating paintings with Van Gogh commenting on what it means to be an artist. The next two segments in Mount Fuji in Red and The Weeping Demon are both these apocalyptic segments with the former revolving around nuclear catastrophe where I tries to protect a woman (Toshie Negishi) from the radiation while the latter has I meeting this demon (Chosuke Ikariya) with a horn on his head who laments over the state of his surroundings and his own impending doom. The final segment in Village of the Watermills is this tranquil setting where I walks into this peaceful village as if it is completely disconnected with modern society where he befriends an old man (Chishu Ryu) who talks about the things he has and why he has no use for modern conveniences.
Kurosawa’s direction is definitely grand in terms of the overall presentation of the film as it is shot on various locations in Japan with the final segment shot on location at the Daio Wasabi Farm. Each segment Kurosawa presents all have some kind of personal ideas as the Sunshine Through the Rain segment is shot near a forest where this child watches a ceremony that is choreographed by Michiyo Hata as there is a richness in the presentation where Kurosawa utilizes a lot of wide and medium shots of these scenes. Most notably in The Peach Orchard where the adolescent watches this ceremony that would revive all of these peach orchards as there are these meticulous imagery into the way Kurosawa would present these naturalistic moments. The segments in The Blizzard and The Tunnel do play into the idea of death with the former being this battle against nature in this furious blizzard while the latter is about grief following the aftermath of war where I is near the home of a private he was with in his final hours.
The segment for Crows is a lush and almost surreal sequence where Kurosawa would recreate the world that Van Gogh would make his paintings as well as these sequences with these grand visual effects where I is walking on painting sketches. The segments for Mount Fuji in Red and The Weeping Demon are among Kurosawa’s most intense as the former is shot near gray beaches as if Mount Fuji is surrounded by these nuclear reactors that are exploding as there’s loads of people trying to run from the explosions as there is this sense of real fear that is emerging. Even with the radiation as the color of red drowns a lot of what is happening as a man (Hisashi Igawa) laments over his role in the nuclear power plant. The Weeping Demon segment is shot on a mountain where there are these large dandelions towering over the man and demon as this strange form of beauty that is deformed while the land of the demons is one of great horror as it also has this commentary on the many fallacies of capitalism.
The final segment in Village of the Watermills is definitely the most somber as Kurosawa would shoot a lot of long and gazing monologues where he doesn’t employ a lot of close-ups in order to get conversations be presented. Instead, Kurosawa aims for simplicity in the final segment while it would also feature an elaborate parade of sorts with I watching it from afar. It is a moment in the film that parallels with the parade in the first segment yet it plays into the protagonist’s own journey in life as well as the fact that these are all ideas based on dreams about humanity, nature, life, and death. Overall, Kurosawa crafts a majestic yet rapturous film about a collection of dreams that play into a man’s journey through life.
Cinematographers Takao Saito and Shoji Ueda do amazing work with the film’s luscious and colorful cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes with additional lighting by Takeji Sano for some scenes set at night such as the scenes at the blizzard and in the tunnel. Editor Tome Minami does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with bits of style in a few slow-motion cuts and a few other stylish bits to play into the drama and suspense. Art directors Yoshiro Muraki and Akira Sakuragi, with set decorator Koichi Hamamura, does amazing work with the look of the home where the young child and adolescent lived in as well as the look of deformed giant-flowers. Costume designer Emi Wada does fantastic work with the costumes in the look of the robes for some of the parades as it has a lot of vibrancy in the colors of the robes as well as a sense of feeling and idea of what they’re representing.
Special effects supervisor Mark Sullivan and visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston do terrific work with the visual effects as it play into some scenes involving rainbows, nuclear terror, and the Van Gogh sketches as it is a major highlight of the film. The sound work of Kenichi Benitani is superb for its approach to natural sound as well as sound effects for the scenes at Mount Fuji. The film’s music by Shinichiro Ikebe is incredible for its mixture of traditional Japanese folk music with some orchestral flourishes as it play into not just some of the intense and dramatic moments but also lighter moments while its soundtrack also include some classical compositions from Frederic Chopin and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.
The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles such as members of the 20-ki No Kai as I’s former platoon, the trio of Masayuki Yui, Shu Nakajima, and Sakae Kimura as mountaineers dealing with the blizzard, Tessho Yamashita as I’s former lieutenant, Mieko Suzuki as the adolescent’s sister, Misato Tate as the peach fairy, and the Kiku-no Kai dancers as dancers at the fox wedding. Other noteworthy small roles include Hisashi Igawa as a remorseful power plant worker looking at the chaos at Mount Fuji, Toshie Negishi as a woman with two kids watching the horror at Mount Fuji, Mitsunori Isaki as the adolescent I who laments over the loss of the peach orchard, and Toshihiko Nakano as I as a young boy whose curiosity over the fox wedding parade gets him in trouble. Mitsuko Baisho is terrific as I’s mother in the first segment who warns her son about watching the fox parade.
The duo of Mieko Harada and Chosuke Ikariya are superb in their respective roles as the ghostly figures as the Snow Woman and Weeping Demon with the former being this silent figure that would guide I during the blizzard while the latter is a figure is someone who laments over his role in the world as he is filled with regret. Yoshitaka Zushi is fantastic as the ghostly figure of Private Noguchi as a former soldier that I took care of back in World War II who asks him about his death. Martin Scorsese is excellent in his small role as Vincent Van Gogh as he is covered largely by makeup yet brings this offbeat approach to his take on the artist as someone that is just trying to find ideas in his surroundings. Chishu Ryu is amazing in his small role as an old man fixing a wheel at a watermill as he converses with I as he talks about what he has and the contentment he has in his life. Finally, there’s Akira Terao in a brilliant performance as the character known as I as a man who would endure many different adventures and encounters as it relates to life and death but also meaning as he tries to find himself as well as his role in the world.
Yume is a tremendous film from Akira Kurosawa. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous images, a rich music score and soundtrack, and themes of life, death, meaning, and environment all told through the idea of dreams. It is a film that isn’t just one of Kurosawa’s great films but is also one of his most accessible in terms of the themes he explores as well as showcasing a world when things were simple and can be again but also the horrors brought on by the darkest aspects of humanity. In the end, Yume is a spectacular film from Akira Kurosawa.
Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) – (The Most Beautiful) – (Sanshiro Sugata Part II) – (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail) – No Regrets for Our Youth - (Those Who Make Tomorrow) – (One Wonderful Sunday) – Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) – Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) – Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) – The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - (Rhapsody in August) – (Madadayo)
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