In “Sunshine Through the Rain,” from which the picture’s striking poster images is culled, a young boy walking in the forest experiences visions of a musical procession. But as the members draw closer, one notices their faces aren’t quite human. Similarly, the next segment, “The Peach Orchard,” has a child run into spirits outside — not the wispy, transparent ghosts as we would think, but painted faces in elegant robes. These spirits then perform a colorful, choreographed dance on four levels of land before disappearing.
With “The Blizzard,” “Dreams” starts to move into “Kwaidan” territory, as a quartet of ice pickers in a heavy snowstorm have trouble moving, breathing and seeing, save for a woman who shouldn’t — couldn’t — actually be there. In “The Tunnel,” a man walking through just that comes across a snarling red dog, then an army of blue soldiers.
Influenced by equal parts Hiroshima and Godzilla, “Mount Fuji in Red” is a slightly pulpy disaster tale in medias res as the title volcano erupts, causing the explosion of half a dozen atomic reactors and chaos among untold residents. In the aftermath, survivors try in vain to shield themselves from harmful clouds of plutonium-239, strontium-90 and cesium-137.
“The Weeping Demon” could be a direct sequel to “Fuji,” as a journeyman meets a former human, now a demon with one horn who laments that his field of flowers has turned into a desert. When flowers are seen again, they’re dandelions, but overgrown to the point that people are the size of bugs.
Finally, “Village of the Watermills” brings a peaceful end to the proceedings, as a young man visits a quiet village with no electricity. Explains the elder resident, "We try to live the way man used to. It is a natural life."
Steeped — if not outright saturated — in Japanese culture, “Dreams” is by no means inaccessible, unless viewers are just dead-set against reading subtitles. If so, that’s their loss, because this is one of the most visually striking films I've ever seen — utterly, heart-crushingly beautiful. The only downfall to Warner Archive release is that it’s not on Blu-ray, where its colorful palette would be appreciated best. This is another masterpiece from a man who had more this his fair share, from “Seven Samurai” to “The Hidden Fortress,” “Rashomon” to “Ran.” —Rod Lott
Watch 'Van Gogh' from "Dreams" on YouTube.