I have been a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s films for decades so when I saw that SABC 3 was showing Kurosawa's film Dreams, I stayed up to watch even though it was past my bedtime.  I suppose the SABC couldn’t risk showing an art film earlier in the evening as it would not have been to the taste of the majority of its watchers for whom they provide a steady diet of soft-porn romances and high testosterone action movies.


I found Dreams to be a wonderfully slow moving film that allowed the viewer to take in the artistic composition and dreamlike quality of the scenes.  There are eight dream sequences, most of which are tied together by a traveller trying to understand the human being’s relationship to the environment.  In the first dream, “Sunshine through Rain,” a curious little boy, who is told not to venture out in such strange weather  when foxes conduct wedding processions that they do not wish to be seen.  When I was a child my mother used to say that sunshine and rain together was the time of a monkey’s wedding.  But we were not forbidden to go out in the rain. This little boy defies his mother and goes to watch the foxes’ wedding parade and he is punished for it.


After watching the whole film, I wondered whether this first dream was a warning against trying to penetrate the secrets of nature and interfere with natural processes.


In the second dream, “The Peach Orchard,” the boy, a little older now, mourns the destruction of a peach orchard.  All the trees have been cut down but the spirits of the trees still inhabit the land and in their dance resurrect the beauty that has been lost.


In “The Blizzard,” the third dream, four men are trapped in a snowstorm and when it seems that they will not survive, the snow spirit appears to revive them and reveal the camp for which they have been searching.  What I gained from this dream was that nature is kinder to humans than they are to themselves.  This was confirmed for me when I contrasted this scene of extreme cold painted in white and grey with the scene in “Mount Fuji in Red,” painted in fiery hues.  “Mount Fuji in Red,” the sixth dream, shows the destruction that is the consequence of nuclear explosions.  It calls to mind Hiroshima.


The fourth dream, “The Tunnel” is an anti-war film. The tunnel allows one man through but the dead, first one soldier, then a whole battalion are turned back.  It is indicative of the senseless destruction of life in war.   A vicious little dog of war carrying explosives represents death and is ready to attack the only man who has escaped alive.


“Crows,” the fifth dream, finds our traveller wandering through Van Gogh’s paintings.  He finds Van Gogh but is not allowed to follow him.  The crows rise up to block the traveller’s path and he is left watching Van Gogh disappearing into the kind of paradise that he created in his art work.  And then we are into “Mount Fuji in Red” and the devastation caused by nuclear explosions.  The juxtaposition of “Crows” and “Mount Fuji” seems to suggest that our scientific advances can only turn our world into a hell.  Paradise exists only in art.  “The Weeping Demon,” the next dream, confirms this view as it shows a devastated earth that has become a place of eternal suffering.


The final dream, “Village of Windmills,” takes us back to before advanced technology and science and shows a very happy community in which death no longer has a sting. The people live long, happy lives in a clean and beautiful environment where pure water is abundant and the air is unpolluted.  The water supplies the energy for simple, environmentally friendly living.  In such an environment death is accepted as the natural conclusion to a long and happy life and is a cause for celebration.


Dreams is a beautiful film with strong messages about war and the environment but as it condemns science and technological progress, it ends on a romantic note and therefore does not propose a real solution to our problems.  We cannot turn back the clock, nor would we want to.  Human development and progress depend on science and technology and the solution to their collateral destructiveness does not lie in a return to a simple, rural life.  The solution must be found in new ways to protect the environment and control the effects of new scientific and technological developments. This film could not have been made without our advanced scientific and technical knowledge.


The only return we can make to the past is to the respect that people once had for nature and for human life.  And that is a very complex issue when one considers the human propensity for greed, exploitation, and corruption.