In the film’s (and book’s) first dream a frustrated
writer finds himself trapped with his beloved but deathly ill wife in
his provincial home. As she dies she asks him to stay by her side for a
hundred years. He complies.
The direction of the late Akio Jissoji is sharp and
slick, utilizing jump cuts, superimpositions, spotlighting and distorted
lenses to create a hallucinatory atmosphere. However, I think Jissoji
overcomplicates the tale, which in its original form was admirably
simple and uncluttered.
The second dream has a seemingly normal man,
informed by a priest that he’s actually a samurai, desperately
attempting to gain enlightenment--and becoming extremely agitated
when he doesn’t.
The director was Kon Ichikawa, who lenses largely in
black and white. With his unerringly stately and precise filmmaking,
Ichikawa is quite faithful to Soseki’s original tale, even utilizing its
Dream #3 has another frustrated
writer--identified as Natsume Soseki--afflicted with horrific dreams.
And he’s not the only one: his wife also has a nightmare in which she
breaks off the head of a sacred statue. Shortly after this Soseki finds
himself carrying a grotesque talking infant on his back through a forest
(the point at which the original story began), who reveals to Soseki the
source of his nightmares: years earlier he killed a child…and then
Director Takashi Shimizu, of JU-ON fame, utilizes all
his horror expertise in this segment, the most overtly horrific of them
all. Among other things, Shimizu adds a lengthy prologue to Soseki’s
tale. But as with the first segment, this adaptation suffers from an
overly complicated rendering of a tale that works better in its
original, and far simpler, form.
In the fourth dream a man finds himself caught in a
surreal loop of destruction that calls to mind a terrifying childhood
The text version centered on the protagonist and a
weird old man. Director Atsushi Shimizu adds a gaggle of demonic
schoolchildren, an ominous train station, a toxic fog and an earthquake.
The segment is a mind-boggler without question, with an all-pervading
mood of lunatic surrealism.
The fifth dream has a woman desperately
riding a horse to save her husband from certain execution. She’s pursued
by an evil demon who contacted the woman earlier, warning that if she
didn’t reach her husband by dawn he and their young daughter would die.
The man, it seems, has crashed his car in the forest with the girl
inside, and is nearly dead. What neither of them (initially) know is the
demon’s true identity--or that it has a mate!
Keisuke Toyoshima helmed this dream, and removes it
from the feudal setting of Soseki’s original. Toyoshima intercuts his
woman protagonist’s nighttime horse ride with memories of her
none-too-contented home life, where the demon first made itself
apparent. Said demon, a ragged, mummy-like creature, makes for an
unforgettable sight chasing after the woman’s horse-bound figure in the
dead of night (the tacky CGI aside).
The sixth dream concerns a weird dude named
Unkei, a robotic dancer and sculptor. He’s damn proficient at the latter
profession, with a talent for chopping woodblocks from which fully
formed sculptures emerge. An onlooker decides to use Unkei’s method to
create his own sculptures, and, needless to add, fails.
Suzuki Matsuo does a decent job directing this nutzoid
segment, even though he lavishes far too much screen time on a fruity
dance performed by the protagonist, who looks like an underage reject
from THE ROAD WARRIOR. This is the most overtly “cultish” of the film’s
segments, with the performers encouraged to overact wildly and a
distracting techno beat underscoring it all.
Dream seven, conveyed via animation, is set
aboard a Byzantine cruise ship on which a top hat wearing man suffers
unbearable solitude. He falls in love with a woman he spies playing a
piano in a hallucinatory ballroom, but this does nothing to cure his
depression. He ends up hurling himself into the ocean, wherein he comes
to the realization that he wants to live after all.
Yoshitaka Amano & Simmei Kawahara did the directorial
chores on this animated fantasia. It’s not manga, or least not the type
of manga we’ve grown accustomed to, having been done up in a jerky
rotoscope style similar to that employed in WAKING LIFE and A SCANNER
DARKLY. This segment is quite slow, and I mean that literally:
everything seems to move at a fraction of normal speed. I found it
difficult to tell if this drudgery was an artistic choice or simply a
result of substandard animation. Probably the latter, although the
segment overall is nothing if not eye-pleasing--and the ending, in which
the protagonist turns into a colorful fish, is damn silly!
The eighth dream concerns a kid who catches
a large turd-like sea serpent. He takes it home to his mother, who won’t
allow it inside. The kid’s overworked father, meanwhile, goes to sleep
and dreams of an author trying to write a story…or is it the other way
Director Nobuhiro Yamashita diverts mightily from the
original tale, which is set entirely in a barber shop. The segment
all-but overflows with nonlinear weirdness, along with ghosts, monsters
and Natsume Soseki himself seen struggling to write the very tale we’re
In dream nine a soldier leaves his wife and
young son to fight in WWII. His wife prays for his return via a series
of complex rituals performed at a nearby Buddhist temple. It’s all for
naught, alas, as the man’s dire fate has already been sealed.
This segment, from Miwa Nishikawa, is the most
straightforward and non-showy of the dreams (just as it is in Soseki’s
original), presented as, essentially, a tragic melodrama…albeit one with
distinctly dreamlike overtones that intercuts past and present in
The final dream begins with the studly
Shotaro arriving back in his hometown after disappearing for several
days. He’s in extremely bad shape, with his eyeballs and brains
literally falling out of his head. It seems he ran off with a mysterious
vixen who inducted him into a gruesome netherworld of cannibalism and
craziness, topped off with Yoshino metamorphosing into a mutant pig.
Yudai Yamaguchi was the director. His work is flat-out
nutty, with excess swish pans and noisy sound effects complimenting a
bevy of special effects and toilet humor. It’s very much in the mold of
guys like Ken Russell and Takashi Miike at their most outrageous.
Natsume Soseki’s novel TEN NIGHTS OF DREAMS is a
justified classic of surreal apprehension, while the
99-years-after-the-fact film version is a bold and fascinating
experiment. What the film lacks in quality and cohesiveness it largely
makes up for in audacity and sheer weirdness--particularly when taken in
conjunction with the original text!