Akira Kurosawa’s nuclear premonition

You know those movies that seem unremarkable the first time you see them, but which, upon second viewing, strike you much deeper?

For me, one such movie was “Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams,” an oddly surreal and nightmarish compilation of some of the great Japanese director’s real-life dreams adapted to the big screen. The movie, composed of 8 short films, is a visual hellish feast of colors and textures and ulterior mythological plot lines. Kurosawa did a masterful job of bringing his dreams to life by dressing them up as beautiful cinematic displays while still imbuing the short films with that dreadful sense of distorted but frightfully recognizable reality we know as dreams. As you watch this movie, you are left with the unsettling psychic aftertaste that you similarly experience upon waking from a dream which you knew was dreadful in sleep, but can’t quite remember upon waking. That sense of reality confounded by sleep, that you’ve perhaps experienced something that wasn’t really there while still displaying the traces and physical manifestations of the dream’s false reality in your mortal body.

I was immediately reminded of a short film in the Dreams movie after last week’s Japanese quake and the consequential nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant near Japan’s Pacific coast. The film, entitled “Mt. Fuji In Red” tells of a Japanese nuclear plant’s complete destruction as its 6 (yes, a coincidence) reactors explode in the shadows of Mt. Fuji. Throngs of Japanese seek to escape the inevitable fallout while the reactors explode dramatically over the ancient volcano’s silhouette. I could not help but recall this sequence as I read and heard of the Japanese battle to subdue a potentially catastrophic nuclear event so close to Tokyo.

I wonder if Kurosawa (who died in 1998) could have envisioned how prescient his dream has come close to being.

In the remainder of the short film, a group of survivors stand by a hazy cliff as wafts of radioactive fog float by, certain excruciating death floating in the air and infiltrating their bodies. One by one, the characters begin jumping off the cliff into the mysterious and unrevealed bleakness beyond the cliff’s ledge, for the camera shows it. They are hastening sure death. Amazing.