Saturday, May 19, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 21 - DREAMS (1990)

- Rated PG but would probably get a PG-13 today for strong thematic elements and some frightening images (though I still think it should be PG, but the MPAA is dumb).
- Starring Akira Terao, Martin Scorsese, Chishu Ryu
- Written & Directed by Akira Kurosawa (though Ishiro Honda is not credited, it is known that he directed 3 segments: The Tunnel, Mount Fuji in Red and some of The Weeping Demon)
- Running time: 1hr 59min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

I love Akira Kurosawa, though I have only seen a handful of his films.  I feel a bit embarrassed that I haven't seen his most celebrated films like SEVEN SAMURAI, RASHOMON or RAN.  But I liked DODES'KA-DEN, THRONE OF BLOOD, and YOJIMBO. And loved SANJURO and THE HIDDEN FORTRESS.  I am always ready to watch one of his flims, so I was looking forward to viewing one of his last films DREAMS, made when he was 80 years old. 

DREAMS isn't a traditional film as it is a collection of 8 short stories that were inspired by either memories or actual dreams the director had.  The first 2 stories feature a young boy, with the remaining 6 featuring a grown man, who may or may not be the same person.  But that's not what's important.  What's important is the message each story tries to get convey. 

I wish I could say that every segment is fantastic, but just like so many other "short story films", it's a mixed bag.  The first 2 are subtle but effective meditative tales.  The first one, about a boy who enters the woods when he wasn't supposed to and sees a procession of foxes (actually just humans in some nifty costumes).  The second, about a boy who is sad that all of the trees at the peach orchard he lives at are cut down.  He is yelled at by some kabuki dolls that come to life.  Those stories are very slow, but I tended to like that.  It's rhythm made me contemplate what was happening.  Very dreamlike. 

There were 3 that didn't work much at all.  THE BLIZZARD spends 10 minutes showing four mountain men moving very slowly through a blizzard, they all pass out and then a angel or spirit or whatever comes to one of them.  I think she was trying to take his soul or something.  It's a premise that could have worked if it wasn't so tedious.  THE WEEPING DEMON was semi-interesting.  It has a man who encounters a depressed one-horned demon.  He explains how he is going to be eaten by bigger 2 horned and 3 horned demons.  It's kind of eerie and creepy, but it doesn't go anywhere.  Probably my least favorite one was MOUNT FUJI IN RED.  It starts with a bunch of power plants blowing up and melting Mt. Fuji.  Everyone throws themselves into the sea, except for 5 people. They talk about what is happening and how the gases that are filling the island are cancerous.  It's poorly thought out, and ends so abruptly that it felt like the filmmakers ran out of time. 

However, there is some good to be discovered.  THE TUNNEL is a very atmospheric tale about a commander during WWII who passes through a long dark tunnel.  At then end of it, he finds all the men that died under his command.  It's very creepy and haunting.  VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS is an optimistic and charming tale of a young man who meets a village elder.  They talk about nature, life and death.  That "man" needs to go back to it's roots.  Like most of the other tales, it moves at a snail's pace, but I really enjoyed the calmness of it.  And seeing the beautiful countryside left me breathless. 

But, hands down, the best story of the film is CROWS.  It's about a man who is at a Van Gogh exhibit at a museum and enters one of the paintings.  He meets the famous painter (a surprisingly effective Scorsese), and takes a magical tour through his most famous works.  Visually, it's just spectacular.  George Lucas' special effects team created the effects that has the man literally walking in famous paintings (like Starry Night).  It's wondrous and was definitely the highlight of the film.  (I watched this movie with my 8 year old daughter, and she absolutely loved this segment.  She liked some of the others ones too, but this was her favorite, as it was mine).

It's hard to rank a movie like this.  It's not a cohesive film.  It's a collection.  Individually, there are good ones and not so good ones.  But as a whole, it's not quite successful.  There is definitely some great stuff here, but you're going to have to sit through some tedious stuff as well.  But, the shorts are evened out pretty well (it begins and ends nice, with the best one being right in the middle).  If you're a fan of Kurosawa, you'll definitely want to check it out, but just prepare yourself to be let down by a few stories.

**1/2 (out of ****)

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