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April Showers: Kurosawa's Dreams

In April Showers, Team TFE looks at memorably soaked moments in the movies. Here's Lynn Lee on Dreams (1990).

The sun is shining, but it’s raining.  Foxes hold their wedding processions in this weather.

But they don’t like anyone to see them – if they catch you watching, they’ll be very angry!

Dreams (1990) may be the most personal of Kurosawa’s films, and has always struck me as one of his most underrated.  It’s uneven, yes, but at its best it really does capture the vivid yet elusive, disorienting nature of a recurring dream that always seems to slip just out of your grasp – the kind of dream that can turn on a hair from a beautiful vision to a nightmare and back again...

Nowhere is this truer than in the first of the eight vignettes, “Sunshine Through the Rain,” in which a little boy ignores his mother’s warnings and goes to the woods to watch a fox wedding.  As he hides behind a giant redwood-like tree, he observes a parade of “foxes” – humans in fox masks – proceeding very slowly through the mist and rain to the haunting sound of a bamboo flute and soft drums.  Their highly stylized movements, reminiscent of the classical Japanese noh theater that Kurosawa liked to channel, heighten the eerie quality of the whole spectacle; for a wedding procession, it’s awfully somber, though also strangely mesmerizing.  Every few paces, the music stops, and the foxes stop, too, occasionally crouching and looking from side to side, as if sensing the boy’s presence.  Finally, when they appear to see him, he runs away.

That’s when the dream turns quite dark, as the boy returns home only to be turned away by his mother.  She tells him an angry fox has been looking for him, presents him with a dagger the fox left for him to kill himself with, and says she can’t let him into the house unless he obtains the foxes’ forgiveness.  The kicker:

They don’t usually forgive.  You must be ready to die.” 

The boy pleads that he doesn’t know where to find them, to which she responds, “On days like this there are always rainbows.  Foxes live under the rainbows.”  And then shuts the door in his face.  Absurd as it is, it’s the ultimate Grimm brothers-level nightmare of every kid – to be shut out of one’s home, disavowed by one’s own mother, and sent out all alone into the great and hostile unknown.  (Side note: no wonder Steven Spielberg was one of the film’s producers; these kinds of primal childhood anxieties would have been totally his jam.)

But then the dream turns again, as we next see the boy wandering through a field of gorgeously hyper-colored flowers, then standing before a lovely rainbow that spans a green mountain range.  It’s a transfixing sight, almost like something out of The Wizard of Oz, except that we never know if the boy finds what he’s seeking.  The ambivalence of that last shot speaks volumes: the rainbow, even as it dwarfs the small child, offers a note of hope – the sunshine through the rain.


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Reader Comments (3)

I prefer the Dreams segment "Crows", with Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh, shouting, "The sun compels me to paint!" in English in the middle of a Japanese-language film! But while the segments aren't all equally great, the entire film is fascinating and worthwhile, with a definite dreamlike atmosphere. Hey, it's hard to go wrong with anything by Kurosawa.

(Coincidentally, I just watched "No Regrets For Our Youth" [1946] for the first time last night - thank you, TCM! Not up the level of Kurosawa's later masterworks, but I found it interesting and affecting.)

April 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

I love "Crows," too, although I did have to laugh at Scorsese playing Van Gogh. My favorite segment is probably the second one, "Peach Orchard." Least favorite: the last one, about the water village, always seemed a bit too didactic/preachy. But I agree the whole film is well worth watching. It's probably the first Kurosawa I saw, since it was a favorite of my parents'.

April 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Interesting that this was some people's first. It was my first in the movie theater but I had scene Ran and Yojimbo (on vhs and in a film class respectively) before that. Rashomon was the second one I saw on the big screen in a repertory cinema.

April 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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