Yume jû-ya (Ten Nights of Dreams, 2006) is an adaptation be eleven Japanese directors of a 1908 collection of stories Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), Botchan, Kokoro) purported to have dreamt. I don’t think it as good as Kobayashi Masaki’s 1964 adaptation of Lafcadio Hearn’s “Kwaidan,” which has more substantial four stories (and one director) or Kurosawa Akira’s film adaptation of eight of his own dreams (1990).
Even more than those progenitors of a genre, “Ten Nights of Dreams” convinces me that there is much that is culture-specific in dreams, whether or not there are archetypes and whether or not Freudian or Jungian analyses are culture-bound. Natsume’s collection was pre-Freudian, whereas the adapters (ranging from close adaptations to quite free-wheeling) are post-Freudian or at least ignoring psychoanalytical orthodoxy.
Beyond my interest in Soseki, my prime motivation for checking out this fantasy/horror/ghost film was that one of the dreams was rendered by the great master of cinema Ichikawa Kon (1915-2008, Burmese Harp, Tokyo Olympiad, etc.) and another by Jissoji Akio (1937–2006, Murder on D Street, Tampopo Noir).
Jissoji’s contribution is the first dream, an OK one about a writer whose wife makes tofu various ways each meal for him and then lies down to die (death is a white mask) for a hundred years. C+ for “A First Night of Dreams.”
I was also disappointed by Ichikawa’s contribution, the second dream. He envisioned it as a silent movie, in black-and-white with intertitles, though the sheath of a samurai’s dagger is red. The samurai is meditating on nothingness after a priest has scoffed at him. Another C+
The third dream, filmed by Shimizu Takashi (the Grudge series) is much wilder with another writer carrying a wizened old man the size of an infant (his sixth son) off into a woods where there is a shrine with six Shinto effigies. His pregnant wife has a recurrent dream about accidentally knowing the head off one. Her husband dreams of smashing the life out of a boy-infant, either the first or the sixth-born. This haunted tale gets a B+ from me.
Though I would make no claim to understand it, I thought that the visuals of the fourth dream (directed by Atsushi Shimizu) were very striking. The author goes to a small town to deliver a talk, flashes back and forth into being a tubercular youth and chases off a pied paper who leads the healthy children into the sea (lemming like). Both Shimizus deliver many surrealistic images, but my grade for this one is higher: A-
Keisuke Toyoshima’s fifth dream has a mother striving to outrun a monster to save her family. It seems pretty average horror movie stuff (and I am not a horror movie fan), so C.
Matsuo Suzuki filmed the sixth night in black and white. I think it goes on a bit too long, though I like its punchline. Most of it is a robot dance miming carving of a guardian figure that is in the wood the way Michelangelo said that sculptures were in the marble waiting to be revealed. Though jumping around while miming the carving, the “carver” only touches the wood twice, with what is extraneous falling away. A-
Dreams 7-9, directed, respectively, by Amano Yoshitaka and Masaaki Kawahara together, Nobuhiro Yamashita, and Nishikawa Miwa tried my patience, with giants, a sinister worm, and WWII battle hallucinations (remember, that these are supposed to be dreams dreamt in or before 1908). C- all around. (The English dubbing of the anime in the seventh detracts from its vibrant look.)
The final one, directed by Yamaguchi Yudai (Battlefield Baseball), may put many viewers off pork. It has some gross-out effects, but also a wicked sense of humor about a very vain young man intolerant of unattractive women getting his come-uppance. B+
Bonus features include a multi-screen essay by Nicholas Rucka about the genre of anthologies (with some not entirely arbitrary basis), a theatrical trailer, a teaser and a TV ad. The Japanese of these are not subtitled.
I recommend dreams 3,4, and 10. As I said, I’m not a horror movie fan. Fans of “The Grudge” series presumably would appreciate the anthology film more. Though much seems druggy to me — dreamy and druggy not being strangers to each other—I think there is too much that is sinister to believe that the movie might seem better to stoned viewers (as “Fantasia” and “2001” reportedly do).
©2016, Stephen O. Murray