Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams

Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams (Yume) is a collection of short segments, each depicting an individual dream. The first time I watched it, I fell asleep.

It’s a remarkable depiction of what the experience of dreaming is like: slow-burning anxiety-driven plots that lack logic and occasionally escalate into nightmares, punctuated by moments of beauty and tranquility. That’s what dreams are like for me, anyway, and apparently Akira Kurosawa too.

(I like to think that’s what lulled me to sleep–its depiction of dreams was so accurate my brain didn’t know what to do, so it joined in the fun.)

So much of the film is quietly horrific. A child having wronged the mystical foxes of the forest is given a knife and told to commit suicide–unless he journeys into the forest to apologize. Mountaineers caught in a storm are coerced by a demon to lie in the snow. Exploding nuclear plants cause Mount Fuji to glow like hot iron. And more.

I’ve had these dreams, with different backdrops, with characters from my own life. Remarkably similar dreams, which is a testament to Kurosawa’s ability to articulate deeply abstract and distant ideas that lurk so far down in our unconscious psyches.

One night in San Francisco there were fierce, cold winds, and I was living in an old building with original wooden window frames that let the cold air go wherever it damn well pleased. I slept in a sweater under a pile of blankets.

But in a surreal moment of sleep paralysis, I awoke to something holding me down, accompanied by roaring, deafening winds. It was, it seemed, an evil presence in the form of the cold itself, pressing down on my chest–just as Kurosawa showed happening to the mountain climbers. I wonder if he experienced something similar and changed the setting to something logical for the story: a cold night in bed depicted as a blizzard on a mountainside.

I have not dreamt of Fuji and nuclear disaster specifically, and yet, I have dreamt of the same experience: crowds fleeing the chaos of destruction. Oddly, in my experience, these aren’t nightmares, they’re just things that happen (lol). I frequently dream of all kinds of aircraft exploding and falling from the sky, and I say aircraft because they are sometimes planes and sometimes abstract goliath flying machines that you would see in a Marvel movie. I don’t even fear flying! Nonetheless Kurosawa’s nuclear disaster reminded me of my planes. But it is not all doom–

There are also those moments in your dreams that feel full of serenity and tranquility, when you are in a perfect place with perfect people. Perhaps the sun is pouring down, perhaps you are with someone you loved, maybe there’s a breeze and you watch the wild flowers sway back and forth. Kurosawa’s closing segment, a visit to a rustic village full of water wheels, feels like that.

It was years ago that I watched it and fell asleep, but just the other day I awoke and was immediately reminded of the film by something I had dreamt. I can’t remember what it was. And yet–the thing is–I’ll have the same dream again and will revisit this film again, if only as an oddly reassuring reminder of our mutually shared dreams and nightmares.

Cross post from Kinja.

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Tales of the Gold Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey is a pulp television series with the sensibility of a Saturday morning cartoon, following a cargo pilot’s adventures set in the 1930s South Pacific. If this sounds like the Disney show TaleSpin, that’s because Gold Monkey was a major influence upon the creator of TaleSpin, Jymn Magon.

There are Nazis! Volcanos! Spies! Samurais! A dog with an eye patch! It must have been an expensive show to produce, and indeed it’s quite striking how much show there is. There are real vintage airplanes, aerial dogfights, large sets, and much of the series appears to be shot in Hawaii. In terms of production scale, this is the Game of Thrones of 1982. The series is the brainchild of Magnum PI creator Donald P. Bellisario.vlcsnap-2013-05-10-20h30m58s209

Many television shows that lasted one season or less have come and gone, but the most similar show that comes to mind is The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Young Indy was undoubtedly better produced, directed, and written, but also ten years later. Contemporaneous to Gold Monkey was Bring ‘Em Back Alive, another WWII-era adventure series set in Singapore. Both were criticized as Raiders of the Lost Ark knockoffs, but it would be more accurate to say that the popularity of Raiders is what allowed Gold Monkey and Bring ‘Em Back Alive to be greenlit during that television season. Bellisario was apparently working on the idea before Raiders was released.

It’s great to see distributors like Netflix giving a second life to the many brief but wonderful television series that have hooked our sense of romance and adventure over the years. If you can still maintain your childlike sense of wonder, you’ll probably enjoy Tales of the Gold Monkey. It’s only available by disc over Netflix, or you can just buy whole the 21-episode run on Amazon for thirty bucks.

shutterbug: A Short Experimental Film

A few years ago in film school, I had an assignment to make a movie using an old 16mm wind-up Bolex camera. I didn’t feel like making a normal narrative; instead, I lugged that clunky camera and a tripod around San Francisco and shot some timelapse footage. Mind you, I didn’t have any sort of automatic timer to control the old camera, so I literally stood in place while manually progressing the film, frame by frame. Most shots are about 15-20 minutes compressed into 15-20 seconds.

With one roll of film left, I needed to create a unifying theme for all the timelapse footage, so I asked a girl to walk around pretending to take pictures. She’s using a magic camera, I guess; I wasn’t too concerned with the story. She was an actress that I had directed before in a more traditional film project.

All of the film was pretty glitchy so of course I used glitchy music. Unfortunately the footage is literally just a mini-dv camera recording a projection of the film because professional telecine scans can be quite expensive. A lot of work for a small pay-off — my silent peers in the class were indifferent — but I like it.

MOONRAKER

I am not very familiar with the pre-Brosnan James Bond, which is to say I’m not familiar with James Bond at all. I’ve certainly enjoyed the Brosnan and Craig films. Casino Royale is a great spectacle and I am excited to see Skyfall. But there is an entire oeuvre of kitsch that I don’t really know. Until now!

Enter Moonraker. This 1979 Bond film with Roger Moore as the leading man is decidedly on the Austin Powers end of the 007 spectrum. Rather than being coy and playful with its inherent outlandishness, it’s just silly. James Bond foils a doomsday plot…  in space!, because of reasons and a guy with a goatee. Moonraker is most remembered for Jaws, the tall henchman with metal teeth and a heart of gold.

Let’s take a photographic adventure.

Check out DB Cooper over here.
They call that fetish “polishing the metal dentures.”
Look at that sexy lady flying like an airplane. Really makes you think.
What a nice helicopter pilot. She prefers to be called a helicopteress.
Astronaut Zumba training!
Look at these friendly faces.
Foreshadowing!
Surprise Venetian knife assassin coffin attack! Oldest trick in the book.
Venetian gun assassin!

There’s actually a nice allusion to Spielberg’s Close Encounters when Bond is in Venice: the keycode he uses to enter a secret laboratory plays the iconic five note sequence from Close Encounters (1977).

Venetian gondola HOVER CRAFT!
Ahh, Rio.
Ahh, this guy.
Jaws has a romantic subplot. This is his sweetie pie and I love her.
LASER MONK. Friar Tuck? More like, Friar fuuuuuuu-
“Hello there. Welcome to my Mayan Spaceship Sex Temple. I’m not trying to kill you.”
Why don’t the sezzy ladies have safety helmets?
Space shuttle! There’s a dozen space shuttles in this movie.
Did you know the space shuttle is basically a glorified commuter bus? It is!
That’s actually cool.
LASERNAUTS!
LASERNAUT MELEE!
Oh James. Shuttles ain’t for cuddles!

One thing’s for sure: the poster is fantastic. They should have forgotten the film and just made the poster.