Picks and Pans Review: Akira Kurosawa's Dreams Directed

updated 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Akira Kurosawa

If you have a hankering to see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure II, you are not in the right mood for this movie.

Even at best, a lot of this anthology of eight fantasy tales will be impenetrable to Western audiences, unfamiliar as we are with the complex tensions between the old and the new in Japanese culture. But such issues as pollution and nuclear war are familiar and, anyway, what's most striking about this movie is not what it says but how it looks.

Kurosawa keeps the screen filled with magnificent images, from a group of elaborately costumed dolls coming to life on a terraced hillside to postnuclear-war demons writhing in pain around a blood-red pool.

Most astonishing is a sequence in which Akira (Ran) Terao as an art lover walks through the canvas of a Van Gogh painting and into sets modeled after the impressionist's work. When Terao finds Van Gogh, he is in the shape of American director Martin Scorsese. Another tale about a group of mountaineers battling a blizzard is ponderous. Yet the white screen takes on an abstract appeal, and even when Kurosawa is at his most pedantic, in a story about a nuclear power accident, he creates a memorable image: a man frantically waving his jacket to protect his family from an approaching radioactive cloud.

There's none of the flourish here of Kurosawa's best-known films: Seven Samurai, Rashomon or Ran. But then the director is 80 now and clearly nostalgic. "It's good to live long and work hard and be thanked." notes one old character. If that's what it sounds like—Kurosawa inviting gratitude—the invitation is one that no one who loves movies is likely to refuse. (In Japanese, with subtitles) (PG)

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