Blu-Ray Review: Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Criterion Collection)

Akira Kurosawa is widely considered one of the greatest film-makers in Japanese cinematic history. In 1990, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honoured his contribution to worldwide cinema. He’s synonymous with war/samurai films such as Ran, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo. However, his other works, whilst less well known, are no less impressive. Ikuru, High and Low, Rashomon and The Idiot are all great films. Dreams, one of his last films, is a collection of very personal short stories.

Dreams is a anthology of eight short stories based on Kurosawa’s own dreams: Sunshine Through the Rain, The Peach Orchard, The Blizzard, The Tunnel, Crows, Mount Fuji in Red, The Weeping Demon and Village of the Watermills. There’s no connecting narrative or consistent theme running through the collection of beautifully rendered tales. The only ‘constant’ is the inclusion of a ‘Kurosawa’ character in each narrative.

As a work of magical realism, Dreams is an uneven and unpredictable compendium of short films. They are all beautifully shot and created. However, Kurosawa has the tendency to drift into polemic, moralising and sentimentality. There are elements of his feature films scattered within, but with no universal theme it feels a bit of a mish-mash. There are highs and lows within Dreams, and whilst some stories are stronger than others, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a master film-maker.

Special Edition Features:

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Shoji Ueda, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring film scholar Stephen Prince
  • Making of “Dreams” (1990), a 150-minute documentary shot on set and directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi
  • New interview with production manager Teruyo Nogami
  • New interview with assistant director Takashi Koizumi
  • Kurosawa’s Way (2011), a fifty-minute documentary by Kurosawa’s longtime translator Catherine Cadou, featuring interviews with filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Martin Scorsese, Hayao Miyazaki, and others
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • Plus: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri and Kurosawa’s script for a never-filmed ninth dream, introduced by Nogami

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams is released on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as part of the Criterion Collection on Monday.

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