When Dreams Come True
In 1990, the Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa released his film Dreams toward the end of his long career. The aim of the project was to put on film some of the vivid dreams he could recall from his lifetime. The dreams depicted are joined by a common theme of man's relationship to his environment, but otherwise this is a collection of short stories. The film was made in the years immediately after the Chernobyl catastrophe when both the Japanese anti-nuclear movement and nuclear industry were expanding rapidly. Perhaps because it had a strongly anti-nuclear message in the latter part of the film, Kurosawa found it impossible to raise the funding for production. It was Steven Spielberg who helped arrange backing through Warner Brothers.
The film received mixed reviews at the time, and it is likely that no one expected the unconventional, surrealistic concept to be a blockbuster. Regardless of whether you like the film, one of its segments takes on new significance in the post-Fukushima era. The segment titled Mount Fuji in Red depicts the eruption of Mount Fuji which subsequently causes multiple meltdowns at a nearby nuclear power plant (which would be the now idled “time bomb” called the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka prefecture.) The dream follows two men, a mother and her two children as they flee toward the sea where panicking refugees are throwing themselves into the ocean like lemmings. The dream consists of dark humor and illogic (color coded clouds of radionuclides), which might tempt the literal minded to dismiss it as nonsense, but, in case it needs to be pointed out, the artist was trying to get at an underlying truth.
Some reviewers at the time were withering in their comments:
Time Out London: Not a little reactionary, the film's main achievement is to show a once impressive director quite out of touch both with the world and with developments in cinema. Much of it is like a moron's guide to the Green manifesto, transforming serious issues into banal trivia...
Heroic Cinema: Kurosawa’s message here is as subtle as a brick: humanity is spoiling the world, with pollution, consumerism and ignorance.
Entertainment Weekly: The picture devolves into a series of obscure, finger-wagging lectures on the subjects of nuclear war, pollution, etc. Even for those seeking faint echoes of Kurosawa's greatness, Dreams, I'm afraid, is a dud.
The Washington Post: "Pontifications" might have served as a more accurate header. Or better yet, "Sermons."... There's so much uninflected, cautionary preaching, with so much sage advice being passed down, that you begin to feel as if you're watching some sort of epic after-school special.
At the time, it might have seemed over-the-top and hysterical to preach about a geological event triggering a nuclear meltdown, but now, not so much. Now that it has happened, and now that the destabilizing effects of climate change are plain to see, the visions and warnings of "scientifically illiterate" artists of the past don't seem so easy to sneer at. Tsunamis, massive earthquakes, floods and drought are real threats to the world's 400 nuclear power plants. (For another work of art worthy of mention here, go to The Talking Heads' Nothing But Flowers, which appeared about the same time as Dreams.)
A four-minute segment of Mount Fuji in Red can be seen here on Vimeo.com but it may not last. Hopefully, Warner Brothers will consider it fair use for review such as this, and beneficial promotion for an old film in their catalog. If you can't view the video, the next best thing is to see the storyboard series of photos below.