Akira Kurosawa's Dreams Criterion Blu-ray Review
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Akira Kurosawa's Dreams was neither his last, nor one of his greatest movies, but it was arguably his most personal.Up until 1985's Ran, the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, having enjoyed half a century of moviemaking, was always quick to answer the question "what do you consider to be your best film?" with "my next one". But after the grand, epic scale of both Ran and its immediate predecessor, Kagemusha, and, given his advancing age - he was, by that point, pushing 80 - even he eventually reflected that Ran may be his best work, and thereafter set about making movies which, whilst not considered amidst his best works, were arguably more personal.Dreams, from Kurosawa's only solo screenplay, was literally based on his own dreams. A series of eight short vignettes, it touched on myriad themes, incorporating both personal aspects of the director's own life (like his childhood home, and his sister, who died when he was a child) and classic tales of Japanese folklore, with everything from a fox's wedding to a chat with Van Gogh, to ghosts and demons, to a nuclear apocalypse, fueling his fever dreams. It's far from classic territory for the director, but it's intimate, revealing and visionary nonetheless.
Picture QualityAkira Kurosawa's Dreams hits UK shores on a Region B-locked disc courtesy of Criterion, whose impressive 4K restoration of the work makes for a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
Criterion's impressive 4K restoration of the work makes for a strong video presentation
Visually opulent, with some of the director's most vibrant and vivid tones, Dreams escapes its quarter-century vintage in some considerable style, arguably looking better than it has ever done before. The broad palette is never more impressive than during the Van Gogh segment, and the newly-restored work shines through, bringing us unparalleled clarity and texture. A noticeable sheen of grain pervades the work, whilst decent enough black levels underpin it, leaving us with little to complain about. This is better than fans of the film could have hoped for.
Sound QualityCriterion's accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track also does impressive work with the material, balancing the dialogue - finely prioritised across the front and centre channels - with the effects, and standing out mostly in the distinctive score.
Criterion's accompanying HD audio track also does impressive work with dated material
The effects are somewhat dated, but get the job done, with straw fields coming alive with gusting wind and startled birds; volcano's erupting and a nuclear holocaust sucking the soul out of the planet, and whilst there is not a great deal of separation, there is still some tangible atmosphere crafted during the runtime, not least thanks to the outstanding presentation of the score, by the man who scored Kurosawa's Kagemusha, Shinichiro Ikebe.
Despite any inherent limitations of the source material, Dreams still sounds better than it likely ever has done before, and whilst it might never make for demo material, it should thoroughly please fans nonetheless.
ExtrasCriterion once again do a stand-up job in the extras department. Headlining the features is a new Audio Commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince, who reflects upon the meaning behind each of the vignettes, exploring symbolism as well as Kurosawa's own personal input. There's also a new Interview with Production Manager Teruyo Nogami, who discusses her work with Kurosawa, and also addresses the personal aspects of the screenplay to Dreams. A further Interview with Assistant Director Takashi Koizumi looks at the work they did on their five collaborations.
There's also a sizeable 150 minute archival Documentary, shot during production, which charts the production process contemporaneously, with plenty of input from Kurosawa himself, as well as a further, much more recent 2011 Documentary, Kurosawa's Way, which runs just short of an hour and has 11 fellow filmmakers (including Scorsese, who himself played Van Gogh in that segment of Dreams) reflecting on the importance of Kurosawa's work not only for them but for the industry itself.
Criterion once again do a stand-up job in the extras department
The disc is rounded off by the Theatrical Trailer, but Criterion once again complete the package with an informative, interesting booklet with plenty of articles and interviews about the film.
Blu-ray VerdictIt's far from classic territory for the director, but it's intimate, revealing and visionary nonetheless
It's somewhat tragic to know that, even after dedicating half a century to making films, the studios still wouldn't back the production of Dreams, leading to long-time fan Steven Spielberg himself to help secure financing. Nevertheless, here we are, a further quarter century on, with Criterion doing another fabulous - and respectful - job at delivering one of the late Kurosawa's final features in the best possible package.
You can buy Akira Kurosawa's Dreams on Blu-ray here
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