Dreams (1990 film)

Dreams (, Yume, aka Akira Kurosawa's Dreams) is a 1990 Japanese-American magical realist film of eight vignettes written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. It was inspired by actual dreams that Kurosawa claimed to have had repeatedly.[2] It was his first film in 45 years in which he was the sole author of the screenplay. It was made five years after Ran, with assistance from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and funded by Warner Bros. The film was screened out of competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival,[3] and to this day has received positive reviews.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced byHisao Kurosawa
Mike Y. Inoue
Written byAkira Kurosawa
StarringAkira Terao
Martin Scorsese
Chishū Ryū
Mieko Harada
Mitsuko Baisho
Music byShin’ichirō Ikebe
CinematographyTakao Saito
Shōji Ueda
Edited byTome Minami
Akira Kurosawa USA
Distributed byWarner Bros. (United States)
Toho (Japan)
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • May 11, 1990 (1990-05-11)
Running time
119 minutes
United States[1]
Budget$12 million
Box office$2 million

The main themes the movie addresses are: childhood, spirituality, art, death, universal disasters and man's mistakes regarding the world; all the segments of the film show a literal and a metaphorical side.


The film does not have a single narrative, but is rather episodic in nature, following the adventures of a "surrogate Kurosawa" (often recognizable by his wearing Kurosawa's trademark hat) through eight different segments, or "dreams", each one titled.

Sunshine Through The RainEdit

There is an old legend in Japan that states that when the sun is shining through the rain, the kitsune (foxes) have their weddings (this is a common theme globally – see sunshower). In this first dream, a boy defies the wish of his mother to remain at home during a day with such weather. From behind a large tree in the nearby forest, he witnesses the slow wedding procession of the kitsune. Unfortunately, he is spotted by the foxes and runs home. The same woman meets him at the front door, barring the way, and says that an angry fox had come by the house, leaving behind a tantō knife. The mother gives the knife to the boy and tells him that he must go and beg forgiveness from the foxes, although they are known to be unforgiving, refusing to let him in unless he does so. She warns that if he does not secure their forgiveness, he must take his own life. Taking the knife, the boy sets off into the mountains, towards the place under the rainbow in search for the kitsune's home.

Kurosawa built a near exact replica of his childhood home for this segment, and the nameplate on the gate even reads "Kurosawa". Kurosawa even showed the actress playing the mother a photo of his own mother, and gave her tips on how to act as her.[4]

The Peach OrchardEdit

Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, traditionally takes place in spring when the peach blossoms are in full bloom. The dolls that go on display at this time, they say, are representative of the peach trees and their pink blossoms. One boy's family, however, has chopped down their peach orchard, so the boy feels a sense of loss during this year's festival. After being scolded by his older sister the boy spots a small girl dressed in pink running out the front door. He follows her to the now-treeless orchard, where the dolls from his sister's collection have come to life and are standing before him on the slopes of the orchard. The living dolls, revealing themselves to be the spirits of the peach trees, berate the boy about chopping down the precious trees. But after realizing how much he loved the blossoms, they agree to give him one last glance at the peach trees by way of a slow and beautiful dance to Etenraku. The boy sees the mysterious girl walking among the blooming trees and runs after her, but she and the trees vanish and he walks sadly through the thicket of stumps where the trees had been, until he sees a single young peach tree, in full bloom, sprouting in her place.

The mysterious girl may be a reference to an older sister of Kurosawa's who died of illness when he was in the fourth grade.[5][original research?]

The BlizzardEdit

A group of four mountaineers, including an adolescent Kurosawa, struggle up a mountain path during a horrendous blizzard. It has been snowing for three days and the men are dispirited and ready to give up. One by one they stop walking, giving in to the snow and sure death. The leader endeavors to push on, but he too, stops in the snow. A strange woman (the Yuki-onna of Japanese myth) appears out of nowhere and attempts to lure the last conscious man to his death - give in to the snow and the storm, she urges him on, into reverie, into sleep, into certain death. But finding some heart, deep within, he shakes off his stupor and her entreaties, to discover that the storm has abated, and that their camp is only a few feet away.

The setting for this sequence was most likely inspired from Kurosawa's personal life, since he confessed to being "a devotee of mountain climbing".[6]

The TunnelEdit

A discharged Japanese company commander is walking down a deserted road at dusk, on his way back home from fighting in the Second World War. He comes to a large concrete pedestrian tunnel that seems to go on forever into the darkness. Suddenly, an angry, almost demonic-looking anti-tank dog (strapped with explosives) runs out of the tunnel, barking and snarling. The dog herds him into the tunnel. The commander walks hesitatingly into its darkness. He comes out the other side, only to witness the horrific yūrei (ghost) of one of his soldiers, Private Noguchi (Yoshitaka Zushi, who was also in Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den), who had died severely wounded in the commander's arms. Noguchi's face is light blue with blackened eyes, signifying that he is dead.

The soldier seems not to believe that he is gone. Noguchi has appeared because his parents' house is visible in a nearby mountainside, a light in the darkness left on for his return. He is heartbroken, knowing he cannot see them again, even while he remains respectful to the commander who led him to his death. Following the commander's wish that he accept his fate Noguchi returns to the tunnel.

Just when the commander thinks he's seen the worst, his entire third platoon, led by a young lieutenant brandishing an officer's sword, marches out of the tunnel. They come to a halt and present arms, saluting the commander. Their faces too are colored blue, for they were all annihilated in a single action. The commander searches for words to tell them that they are dead, and says that he himself is to blame for sending them into a futile battle. They stand mute in reply. The commander orders them to turn about face, and salutes them in a farewell as they march back into the tunnel. Collapsing in grief, the commander is quickly brought back to his feet by the reappearance of the hellish dog.


A vignette featuring director Martin Scorsese as Vincent van Gogh.[7] An art student finds himself inside the world of Van Gogh's artwork, where he meets the artist in a field and converses with him. Van Gogh relates that his left ear gave him problems during a self portrait, so he cut it off.[7] The student loses track of the artist, and travels through other works trying to find him, concluding with Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Crows.

This Segment features Prelude No. 15 in D-flat major ("Raindrop") by Chopin. The visual effects for this particular segment were provided by George Lucas and his special effects group Industrial Light & Magic. It is also the only segment where the characters do not speak Japanese but English and French.

Mount Fuji in RedEdit

A large nuclear power plant near Mount Fuji has begun to melt down; its six reactors explode one by one. The breaches fill the sky with hellish red fumes and send millions of Japanese citizens fleeing in terror towards the ocean. After an unspecified amount of time, two men, a woman, and her two small children are seen alone, left behind on land in broad daylight. Behind them is the sea. The older man (Hisashi Igawa, who appeared in a number of Kurosawa's later movies), who is dressed in a business suit, explains to the younger man that the rest have drowned themselves in the ocean. He then says that the several colours of the clouds billowing across the now rubbish-strewn, post-apocalyptic landscape signify different radioactive isotopes; according to him, red signifies plutonium-239, a tenth of a microgram of which is enough to cause cancer. He elaborates on how other released isotopes cause leukemia (strontium-90) and birth defects (cesium-137) before wondering at the foolish futility of colour-coding radioactive gases of such lethality.

The woman, hearing these descriptions, recoils in horror before angrily cursing those responsible and the pre-disaster assurances of safety they had given. The suited man then displays contrition, suggesting that he is in part responsible for the disaster. The other man, dressed casually, watches the multicoloured radioactive clouds advance upon them. When he turns back towards the others at the shore, he sees the woman weeping: the suit-clad man has leaped to his death. A cloud of red dust reaches them, causing the mother to shrink back in terror. The remaining man attempts to shield the mother and her children by using his jacket to feebly fan away the now-incessant radioactive billows. Mount Fuji in Red was sub-directed by Ishiro Honda, the Director of Godzilla (1954), in which we meet (essentially) this same woman and her two children in similar dire circumstances.[8]

The Weeping DemonEdit

A man finds himself wandering around a misty, bleak mountainous terrain. He meets a strange oni-like man, who is actually a mutated human with one horn. The "demon" explains that there had been a nuclear holocaust which resulted in the loss of nature and animals, towering dandelions taller than a man, and humans sprouting horns, which cause them so much agony that you can hear them howling during the night, but, according to the demon, they can't die, which makes their agony even worse. Many of the "demons" were former millionaires and government officials, who are now (in Buddhist style) suffering through a hell befitting for their sins.

At the last scene, the "demon" warns the man to go away, asks if he also wants to become demon. The horrified man then runs away from the scene with the demon in pursuit.

Village of the WatermillsEdit

Watermills in the Daio Wasabi farm

A young man finds himself entering a peaceful, stream-laden village. The traveler meets an old, wise man (he tells the young man that he is 103 years old) who is fixing a broken watermill wheel. The elder explains that the people of his village decided long ago to forsake the polluting influence of modern technology and return to a happier, cleaner era of society. They have chosen spiritual health over convenience, and the traveler is surprised but intrigued by this notion.

At the end of the sequence (and the film), a funeral procession for an old woman takes place in the village, which instead of mourning, the people celebrate joyfully as the proper end to a good life. This segment was filmed at the Daio Wasabi farm in the Nagano Prefecture. The film ends with a haunting, melancholic excerpt from "In the Village", part of the Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 1 by the Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.

One aspect of the village in this sequence is a large stone which local children place flowers over; the old man reveals this to be the grave of a traveler who died long ago, and it has become a tradition to lay flowers over it as you pass. Kurosawa was most likely inspired by a similar stone from his father's home village:

Near the main thoroughfare of the village stood a huge rock, and there were always cut flowers on top of it. All the children who passed by it picked wild flowers and laid them atop the stone. When I wondered why they did this and asked, the children said they didn't know. I found out later by asking one of the old men in the village. In the Battle of Boshin, a hundred years ago, someone died at that spot. Feeling sorry for him, the villagers buried him, put the stone over the grave and laid flowers on it. The flowers became a custom of the village, which the children maintained without ever knowing why.[9]

Before the end credits, the young man himself pauses to lay a flower over the stone.



The film received mixed to positive reviews, while on Rotten Tomatoes earning an approval rating of 65% from 26 reviews, and an approval of 86% from audiences.[10]

Critical reviewsEdit

Vincent Canby writing for The New York Times gave the film an above average review stating: "It's something altogether new for Kurosawa, a collection of short, sometimes fragmentary films that are less like dreams than fairy tales of past, present and future. The magical and mysterious are mixed with the practical, funny and polemical."[11] The Encyclopedia of International Film states: "At 80, Kurosawa [...] is impatient with artifice; He has long been a master of complex narrative. Now he wants to tell what he does. There are no wild juxtapositions of the creatures of his sleeping world with the images of his waking world. They are, after all, products of the same sensibility. The rhythms of his editing and his staging are serene - hypnotically so. To be able to do so, we need to know what is going on. And this is one of the most lucid dreamworks ever placed on film."[12] Donald Richie and Joan Mellen, in an article said: "Beyond himself, he is beautiful because the beauty is in the attitude of the director. This is evident not only in the didactic approach, but also in the whole slowness, in the quantity of respect and in the enormous, insolent security of the work. That a director in 1990 could be so strong, so serious, so moral and so hopeful, is already beautiful."[13]

Home mediaEdit

Dreams was released on DVD by Warner Home Video on two occasions: one on March 18, 2003, and the other on August 30, 2011 as part of the Warner Archive Collection.[14][15]

The Criterion Collection released special editions of the film on Blu-Ray and DVD on November 15, 2016 in the US.[16][17] Both editions feature a new 4K restoration, headed by Lee Kline, technical director of The Criterion Collection, and supervised by one of the film's cinematographers, Shoji Ueda.[18]


  1. ^ "Details". www.afi.com.
  2. ^ Prince, Stephen (1999). The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa. Princeton University Press. p. 303. ISBN 0-691-01046-3.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Dreams". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
  4. ^ Richie, Donald (1998). The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press. p. 220. ISBN 0-520-22037-4.
  5. ^ Kurosawa, Akira (1983). Something Like an Autobiography. Vintage Books. p. 18. ISBN 0-394-71439-3.
  6. ^ Kurosawa, Akira (1983). Something Like an Autobiography. Vintage Books. p. 65. ISBN 0-394-71439-3.
  7. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (August 24, 1990). "Review/Film; Kurosawa's Magical Tales of Art, Time and Death". The New York Times.
  8. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100998/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ql_1
  9. ^ Kurosawa, Akira (1983). Something Like an Autobiography. Vintage Books. p. 63. ISBN 0-394-71439-3.
  10. ^ "Dreams (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  11. ^ Kurosawa's Magical Tales of Art, Time and Death [1], May 20, 2003, Vincent Canby, New York Times.
  12. ^ Richard Schickel: Night Tales, Magically Told, September 9, 1990 in Time Magazine, online resource, retrieved on September 24, 2007, translated by Wikipedia.
  13. ^ Donald Richie, Joan Mellen: The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0-520-22037-4, p. 223 (limited preview in Google Book Search).
  14. ^ "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams DVD [2003]". Blu-ray.com. Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  15. ^ "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams DVD [2011]". Blu-ray.com. Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  16. ^ "Dreams Blu-Ray [2016]". Blu-ray.com. Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Dreams DVD [2016]". Blu-ray.com. Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  18. ^ Kline, Lee (7 January 2016). "The Color of Dreams - From the Current". The Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 13 July 2016.

External linksEdit