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I stayed in a room with a book of dream interpretations on the bedside table in October. It taught how to read into the symbolism of images that populated the unconscious, to decipher meaning from the unassuming fragments of the night. Around the same time, I began to keep a dream diary. And shortly after, I moved in to a new apartment, in a new city that was once familiar to me. To decorate my sparsely furnished room with more than the requisite fixings, I scoured eBay for a poster of a movie I hadn’t yet seen but had read portions of the screenplay of for a college elective: Dreams by Akira Kurosawa, a rainbow settling across a meadow, the back of a boy who would become a man as he headed into the beauty of the unknown. A fox wedding.
The screenplay lives on in my head because its narrative had been charmingly stylized, novelistic; it read like a series of short stories rather than a traditional script, and Kurosawa’s translated writings had made an impression on my sleepy-eyed self at that point in time, ten years ago, scouting B5 chirashi posters of the very same. In this way, through material objects like rare edition movie posters of luxury and waste, the past seems to renew its landmarks and patterns, as though seen in the distance from a map; we circle around the same point, in concentric circles radiating outward, until we’ve reached where it is that we’re going. Sometimes that place is simply a space that has been waiting for us all along: the space to dream. The year of Dreams.
Dreams begins with a fox wedding, ritualistic and mysterious and foreboding, and quickly transitions into the spiritual guardians of a peach orchard, then a spiritual embodiment of a deathly snowstorm, who is unsurprisingly a beautiful maiden with a safety blanket for the male traveler of the segment. Taken from his own nightly visions, Kurosawa’s reimagining of these fleeting moments is replete with the kind of symbolism that my dream interpretation book (and former psychotherapist) would have found fertile for analysis. Yet, the magic of his surreal ephemera is not their latent symbolism but their easy access; the uncanny logic of his dream worlds is self-contained and immediately transmissible to the viewer through snatches of dialogue and exposition.
It makes perfect sense for the short periods we are immersed in each dream that the characters defy social codes and convention and that the impossible is given free reign. At no point do we stop to question why the army commander is followed through a tunnel by a platoon of his dead comrades; instead, we are caught on their pallid blue faces, their rigidity, their undeniable pathos as he apprehends them with a guilty conscience for remaining alive. Nor do we question how the painter enters a Van Gogh painting to meet his prolific artistic inspiration (played by a dour Martin Scorsese, with heartening dialogue about the fact of painting, its all-consuming intensities comparable to the onward thrust of a locomotive) in fields of gold. All’s fair in love and war, and all’s fair in the world of Kurosawa’s dreamscapes as well. For a man who went to art school as a painter but was unable to make a living off his art, Dreams stands as a testimony to his belief in the dream of a young man.
Split into eight vignettes that examine nuclear fallout, the consequences of choice, and a well-lived life, the anthology of the director’s recurring dreams is a mesmerizing escape into his runaway imagination — but rather than function as pure escapist fantasy of nonsensical madness, it seems to at turns caution and remind us of his latent theme of respecting nature. Episodic and painterly, the interludes are not separate aesthetic objects, little miniature puzzle boxes, so much as they are prescient warnings that tug at the deepest parts of us: our fears of aging, of environmental degradation due to human culpability, the power of nature to subsume us entirely.
As we enter the new year with the heaviness that comes of conflict, I pass the days at my desk waiting for a call from the framers, for me to pick up my finished Dreams poster from the shop on the corner — ruminating on the significance of these midnight images, what unknowns they predict and revive while yet asserting the power of the imagination to recover: to rebuild, one dream at a time, that which connects us all beyond the passing shadow of surface separation.