It is some surprise that Akira Kurosawa never ventured into fantasy cinema. Somehow, the work he did makes one feel he should have. The nearest he came was Rashomon with its unique existential storytelling and the channelling of a ghost as narrator of one of the tales. Kurosawas only full-blooded fantasy film was this remarkable venture into the Japanese tradition of the kaidan or ghost story. Surprisingly though, it is one of the most overlooked films in Akira Kurosawas canon.
Akira Kurosawa was 80 years old when he made Dreams. He tells eight stories, all of which were purportedly derived from his dreams the film is titled Akira Kurosawas Dreams in some international versions and this is true in the most literal sense. Most of the stories are too brief to be entirely satisfying they are best seen as vignettes and fragments on a common theme than as separate stories proper. Viewed as a progression of dream images, Dreams is a film of successively overwhelming and beautiful parts. There are some extraordinary visual moments like in The Tunnel when the ghost soldier turns and points out across an entire valley to a single light, that of his parents house lit waiting for his return. Or the Crows segment where Industrial Light and Magic conjure up journeys through perfect three-dimensional recreations of Vincent Van Gogh landscapes where fields, buildings and landscapes have been vibrantly crafted into the wild swashes of bold colour and oil paint that characterise Van Goghs work.
The best segments are by far the first two the samisen dance of the sumptuously dressed dolls on the tiered slopes of the peach orchard or the ritual progression of the masked and painted foxes through the forest to oddly atonal music. They are visions far more alien than most science-fiction ever aspires to. The first segment is the most fully realised as a story Akira Kurosawa creates a fine sense of empathy for the child and the sense of dread chill that comes when his mother abandons him to his fate and gives him the ritual hara kari knife closes in with shattering effect. The two nuclear diatribes are the slightest, lacking the magic and otherworldliness of the other segments. The only non-fantastic item, the final segment, is a wonderful celebration of life in the face of death and appropriately served as the penultimate coda to the career of the now late Kurosawa who died in 1998.
Shorter US trailer here:-