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Akira Kurosawa's Dreams
Movie Review


Akira Kurosawa's Dreams


A Study of Death and Beauty, June 18, 2005

"Sun Under the Rain" is the first short film in this "movie." As rain cascades onto a slate gray house, a young boy is told he must stay home. Soon his curiosity compels him to wander in the forest. The sunlight filters through mist weaving its way through the giant trees in layers of enchanting vertical art. At times the rain appears like glitter against the wet rust bark. There is a sense of mystery as the young boy hides behind a tree and watches a fantastical wedding procession. Upon returning home he is told he must face his fear and ask forgiveness (or die) for watching the fox's wedding procession. We are then rewarded with fields of flowers and a rainbow.

This is the first in a series of eight short dreams that seem to be dealing with various elements of death. In the first movie, there is a choice between death or asking forgiveness. This introduces the idea of death and in the next short film about a peach orchard, the idea is taken one step further. The peach orchard is cut down and this introduces the idea of death in nature. Tree spirits discuss their tragic end with the child and dance in four magical rows where the trees were planted. As a child cries over the loss of the peach blossoms he says: "Peaches can be bought. But where can you buy a whole orchard of blossoms?" The first two films contain magical elements to surprise and delight the inner child.

The Blizzard and Avalanche will try your patience at first, but as with many of the films, your patience is well rewarded. Just as we are losing hope, a snow goddess arrives and seems to be an angel of death lulling a climber into sleep, as if to calmly steal his soul while the wind whips her hair in an erotic dance of nature. As he lays covered in snow, she places layers of what appears to be a magical shawl over his shoulders. She keeps saying things like: "The ice is hot." I kept thinking this was a study in hope and yet the elements of death were very present. Expect the unexpected in this section.

The Tunnel brings us to the concept of fearing the unknown or not accepting our death. The walking dead appear and there is a sense of having lived an unfulfilled life or dying for causes that were not worth more than life itself. This is when Akira Kurosawa starts to delve into political aspects and death's stark reality in war. Another film shows the dangers of nuclear power and Mt Fuji glows with a ruby shimmer and seems to be melting. The images of the demons in pain gave me nightmares the night after I watched this movie. The images of blood-red lakes and demons, in what seems like emotional and physical agony, was enough to make me dream about hell. In fact the night after I viewed these short films, I had many "short film dreams" of my own.

One of my favorite sections is "Crows," where an artist steps into a Van Gogh painting. The film has many surprises, but very little plot. Mostly we are viewing two painters walking through their own art and discussing their view of the world. Crows is much more about visual delight and a surprising ending.

"The Village of the Watermills," takes place in a picturesque village complete with a dreamy river and little bridges. Here death is celebrated and life is revered. The water rushes over long flowing underwater grass growing from the riverbed. We are faced with questions about our modern reality. Is it as comforting as living in a village? Is our modern village somewhat lacking in community? Do our funerals focus too much on our sorrow and less on the celebration of a life well lived?

I watched this twice and noticed quite a few new elements on the second viewing.

I want to go sit by the river in the Watermill village and watch the long grass weave back and forth in the water and the child in me wants to be walking in the front of the funeral procession, tossing flower petals in front of the dancers.



Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh


In his own words..., November 10, 2005

"I will not live without love." ~Vincent van Gogh

The story of Vincent van Gogh's life seems best told in his own words, complete with casual sketches, detailed drawings and famous paintings. In the spirit of "Crows" in Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (where we see the Langlois Bridge and Crows in the Wheatfields brought to life), we are entertained by visions of painting after painting. It is fun to watch Akira Kurosawa's Dreams after viewing this movie because then you recognize the paintings that were brought to life in a dream of pure visual delight.

The Café Terrace, Yellow House, Fishing Boats, Bedroom at Arles, Starry Night and Sunflowers are some of the paintings featured, but there is an entire world of Vincent van Gogh's art that is introduced with analytical letters written to his brother. In these letters he tells his brother of the art he is working on and his motivating influences all while we the viewer are entertained with the art, scenes from nature and the acting out of various scenes (Night Café with Pool Table) that eventually became paintings. There are fields of olive trees from Olive Trees 1889 and Vincent's letter speaks of the difficulty of capturing the colors in the soil and tree bark.

When you hear the story of Vincent van Gogh's life in his own words, suddenly he becomes so much more than a famous artist. His life is filled with tragedy and hardship, but he is also able to find stunning beauty through his love of philosophy and his view of the world seems to remain relatively positive right up until his death. He not only travels, he also lives with Gauguin. The art shown after living with Gauguin shows how being able to relate to someone like himself increased his creativity.

He speaks of how he is a self-taught artist and how thankful he is that he was not trained and therefore had to experiment with paint to produce eye-catching effects. As he travels, his world expands and so does his art. He tries to capture his experience in 1,800 works during his life and while they can't all be shown in this movie, the director tries to capture as many beautiful scenes and pieces of art as he can in as many ways film allows. The creativity is delightful as actors take their places and then a picture emerges.

"How lovely yellow is." ~Vincent van Gogh

He seems far from debilitating madness in his letters (he talks about episodes) and more inclined towards deep contemplations and philosophical discussions. He seems to be reaching out to a world that does not quite understand him all while trying to make the lives of those around him less lonely.

The movie begins with his lofty spiritual goals and ends with his death. We learn so much about this artist, of his being homesick for the land of pictures and how he felt compelled to capture the daily activities of the peasants.

The goodness in his heart truly shines through the darkness of his later days as he helps a woman most would have shunned and must live without the love of the woman he wanted to marry.

Through a weaving of philosophy and art, Paul Cox created a stunning and somewhat mesmerizing journey through the life of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). I watched both the movie and the interview three times because the thoughts and experiences are so compelling. Of all the movies I've seen on an artist's life, this is my favorite. What makes this truly memorable are the letters from Vincent to Theo read eloquently by John Hurt.

After watching this, you may find yourself looking for a book about Vincent van Gogh's art or his letters in order to find some of the art shown in this movie or to expand your knowledge of his writing and philosophy. While many emphasize the madness, this movie emphasizes the struggle for beauty and the unending desire of the artist to capture all that he loves.



Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy - Classic Filmmaking

The Orphic Trilogy


The Blood of a Poet - 1st Film

The Blood of a Poet

Realistic Dream Worlds, October 10, 2006

"a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body." ~ Jean Cocteau

Blood of a Poet is surprisingly captivating and encourages the viewer to remain completely attentive by capturing surprise in every moment. Who would think a ball of snow would destroy a human life or that a mouth could transfer from a painting onto a hand like a sensual stigmata.

As a man struggles to comprehend his newly found "life-giving" force, he kisses a statue into life and then becomes a voyeur in a world of bizarre occurrences after splashing through a mirror, a scene that made me laugh with surprise. Here, decorative angels climb down off walls, walk across ceilings and housekeepers sigh in frustration.

The violent scenes are more like scenes from a dream and in black-and-white, the effect is rather mild and the suicide seems to be unsuccessful. The idea is more about the artistic look of the black blood than the actual death of the individuals. It is very experimental in nature and more art than death.

Recently while watching a set of music videos directed by Anton Corbijn, I did notice a direct correlation between this movie and a 1984 music video where a hand (complete with faces instead of just lips) follows a woman and people try to step through mirrors. It could have just as easily been inspired by Alice in Wonderland, but I have my sneaking suspicion "Blood of a Poet" has inspired more than a few music videos.

The beginning of this movie seems to stay in your mind for a few days as you consider the meanings and symbolism. Due to the realistic portrayals (sets are all fairly uncomplicated), this is surreal, but in a very down-to-earth way.

~The Rebecca Review


Orpheus - 2nd Film 



An Ephemeral Vision of Life and Death, October 12, 2006

Orpheus is the second film in the Orphic Trilogy by Jean Cocteau and after watching "The Blood of a Poet" it makes much more sense. You are thrown into a similar world, and if you embrace the magical realism that is somewhat haunting, it becomes quite a delicious story with a purpose.

Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, the main couple, Orpheus the poet and his wife the somewhat fragile Eurydice (killed by a motorbike instead of a snake), experience life in a world where they are presented with otherworldly temptations and serious life-changing contemplations.

They visit a strangely modern underworld where Orpheus seems to be looking for death/the Princess or perhaps Persephone (queen of the underworld - but she seems to be more like the temptress/siren in this movie) more than his recently departed wife. She seems to have a good sense of humor and reminds the participants of her plots not to look back lest they be turned into pillars of salt, as she remembers from the past.

There are all sorts of lovely visual metaphors like "kiss of death" and other ideas you pick up on as you are watching the story unfold. Just as in "The Blood of a Poet," we find humans moving through mirrors as easily as their underworld conspirators. Death falls in love with a poet, although we assume he fell in love with the idea of her first. In a way, he writes her into his life.

Everyone seems to live in reality all while moving from death to life and from life to death. Keeping up with who is dead and who is alive only makes it all the more fun. It is not quite as frightening as a horror movie, but somewhat like a twilight zone with an unexpected ending. I found this to be rather intriguing and it kept my attention better than most modern movies of today. There is something very elegant, contemplative and intriguing about the movies in Jean Cocteau's trilogy. I love the way the mirrors turn watery and how the characters move so easily from one world to the next.

~The Rebecca Review

Testament of Orpheus - 3rd Film

Testament of Orpheus

The Third Movie in the Orphic Trilogy, October 17, 2006

"The danger with films is that we get used to seeing them without paying the same attention we would pay to a play or a book. But it is a first-class vehicle of ideas and of poetry that can take the viewer into realms that previously only sleep and dreams had led him to." ~Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)

Jean Cocteau's third film in the Orphic Trilogy is not quite as structured as the first two movies, but still contains intriguing elements of filmmaking from the past. His fixation with gloves and ghostly apparitions remains consistent, as does his love for special effects and mythical elements.

While the first two movies seemed to focus mainly on serious topics and darker elements, this movie has quite a few laughs and witty comments like: "I have a poor memory for the future." It makes sense within the context as this movie contains time travel. Jean Cocteau wanders through his own movie making comments about his last two movies and putting his paintings on display.

Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy is a testament to art and his influence can be seen in the works of modern filmmakers and even in music videos. While you are sure to have a favorite scene from every movie, or more, this one contains a great scene where the poet comes back to life and is said to have only pretended to die. Jean Cocteau's inner magical child is playful and spontaneous and you can't help but love his movies.

~The Rebecca Review


Beauty and the Beast


Sumptuous Perfection, November 14, 2006

Sheer curtains shimmer in hallways where characters float as if in a mist of dreams, appearing from velvety darkness. The sumptuous perfection of the black & white cinematography is a beauty even beyond the story, which is emotionally fulfilling and replete with contrasts of ethical significance. As with any great story, there are forces of darkness and light, a hero's journey and exciting moments of terror where the characters must overcome their deepest fears.

Both Belle and her father must overcome their fears in the dark forest where a magical castle is securely hidden amidst thick foliage. Here the Beast wanders in his anguish, knowing he can only escape his torment with a loving look. The possibility of this happening (of human kindness appearing in the dark treacherous life he leads) is so challenging a prospect; he almost seems to lose his mind in his impatience.

The sheer terror Belle experiences when she first sees the Beast, is subtlety softened by his carrying her up a winding set of stairs into a beautiful garden setting. The change of her costume in one scene creates magical elements as Jean Cocteau works his cinematic magic born of his fascination with mirrors, animated statues and the ability to escape time's constraints. Arms stretch out from walls holding candelabra and hands pour drinks from the middle of a table.

As with all of Jean Cocteau's work, you can see his influence appearing again and again throughout the history of cinema. Even Disney seems to have captured the magic from this movie and if you have an interest in the story of Beauty and the Beast, then Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête is an essential experience. I can also highly recommend his Orphic Trilogy.

The Commentary versions are well-worth watching and you can end up spending the entire evening watching this three times and enjoying every moment. I will have to agree that even Belle seems to be disappointed by the appearance of the prince who seems too perfect and so much less of a challenge.

There is great beauty in the love Belle shows to the tortured soul of the Beast and in this is the true beauty of kindness. You can completely lose yourself in the magical perfection of this timeless classic.

~The Rebecca Review

A Doll's Dream

See the art inspired by the 
Beauty & The Beast Movie


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