Every time I make a film. I try to increase the number of moments of true cinema which I manage to achieve, and I want to carry on trying even now. I am quite serious about this — I do not say so from modesty, or false modesty. What I try to do when I make a film is to be as honest to myself as possible. People all over the world can be brought together by the cinema, and that is its greatest strength.‘
That rather woolly idealism is expressed throughout Dreams, but when pressed to define his idea of what constituted real cinema, the venerable director retreated into enigma.
‘Cinema is cinema, films are films‘, he observed. mischievously rather than sagely. ‘I can't give you a logical definition. What I can say is that I love film passionately, and was bewitched by its beauty, and that is what I have been trying to capture ever since. It is my reason for being.’
‘I don’t want to reveal my secrets to you,‘ he laughed, ‘and in any case, you have to see th moments of real cinema for yourself. That is how you should always watch a film, it is the only way to get pleasure from them. A film-maker who explains his film is just the worst thing.‘
Ifthere was more than a hint of hypocrisy in the nods from the
assembled ranks ofjournalists, whose earnings are largely dependent on conveying film-maker‘s explanations oftheir films to their readers, Martin Scorsese’s grin looked genuine enough. The director figures in the film in another of his acting cameos, in the unlikely role of Vincent Van Gogh in the sequence ‘Crows’, which brings the great artist’s work alive on screen (‘I’ve never been in a cornfield before,’Scorsese jokes, ‘they don’t have them in New York’), and allows the Kurosawa-figure (known simply as ‘I’ and played by — other than in the childhood dreams — actor Akira Perao) to ‘meet’ the painter.
“When I was young, I wanted to be a painter,’ Kurosawa explained, ‘and I studied art. It was just at the end of the Post-Impressionist era, and although we did not see Van Gogh’s original paintings in Japan, I knew them from reproductions, and I read his letters to his brother Theo. When I came to write down the dream, I remember the great love and respect I felt for him, I would love to have met him in reality, although of course he was already dead, and I think it was because we of this very deep and sincere desire that I did meet him in my dream.’
Inevitably. Dreams is rather
lacking in narrative coherence. although the film has a pleasing overall shape, moving from the dream of a small boy who sees the forbidden ceremony of the Fox Wedding (from an old Japanese folk tale) in the opening sequence, ‘Sun Shining Through the Rain‘ (no Kurosawa film would be complete without cascading rain), through to the nostalgic final thought ofa 103 year old man (played by 86 year old Chishu Ryu, veteran star of most of Yusujiro Ozu’s most important films) who outlines a world in harmony with nature which we have lost.
A sense of loss pervades the film — the lost beauty of the trees in blossom in ‘The Peach Orchard‘, the lost lives of the soldiers in ‘The Tunnel’, the lost opportunities to paint in Van Gogh’s tragic, driven life, and the loss of civilisation and humanity itselfin the holocaust sequences ‘Mount Fuji in Red’ and ‘The Weeping Ogre.’ It is Kurosawa’s most personal film, and his most didactic, even if the sentiments are often rather trite.
‘Every time I shoot a film, I try to avoid a direct or limited discourse which attacks the viewer, and I do not think this film is any different. I am not trying to send a direct message. but at the same time, I live
in the modern world. and the things I think and feel about that world emerge in my films. If there is a message. then it comes from that, but I have not tried to impose it on the film.‘
Any weaknesses in the film are more than made up for by Kurosawa’s magnificent sense of the real nature of cinema. He may disparage his efforts, but his work reveals an unfailing genius for colour, composition, fusion of image and music, and. above all, movement. A masterly manipulator of large scale scenes and huge numbers of actors, he is equally compelling in the simplicity of a conversation between an old man and his cinematic self in the film’s philosophical closing sequence , although even there he is unable to resist the eruption of a colourful parade.
In Dreams as in all his films, the master fills the screen with a succession of images ofdazzling, thoroughly memorable beauty. It is a constant visual treat for eyes jaded by the formulaic camerawork and high-tech trickery of mainstream film.
Dreams opens a! the Edinburgh Cameo on Fri 25.
The List 18—31 May 19907