While it might have benefited from a more cohesive through-line, Kurosawa's film nonetheless charts a startling & often surrealist journey from birth to death. Although the instalments are separate & episodic, they do add up to a singular narrative commentary on the cycle of life; leading the viewer through recollections past & present; between dream & memory; to themes of war, destruction, nature & creative pursuit.
The 80s birthed a golden age of production design and practical FX, and this personal project from Kurosawa, supported by Lucas and Spielberg, shows how such tools could be put to lyrical use. It's all hit and miss, but the effect has its own intoxication: we see a mind at work, and like analyzing our own dreams, we see links, meaning, and progression where none may exist. At 80, Kurosawa was trying something new.
Honestly the vibrant usage of color in Kurosawa's later films are not emphasized enough, since they are some of the most visually beautiful I've ever seen with this film being no exception. Uneven yet the last dream more than makes up for the slightly deficient dreams.
Ultimately the message of this film is no different than the one in Ran. Kurosawa is clearly outraged at the first signs of modern society and uses his lavish imagery to highlight the contrast between his personal ideas of harmony (the "ideal present") and chaos (our present). All of these ideas finely subdued under the guise of "dreams" in one of the most subtle films of his career. I liked it a lot.
This film is evocative of masterful style of directing developed over a great many number of years, an approach versed in communicating the lush landscapes of the Eastern world while at the same time displaying a skilled/developed attention to the acting style/blocking ,etc... This film is perhaps most wonderful in its ability to captivate the viewer without any regard for conventional use of narrative structure...
A film made by dreams, in golden hands... Every dream in this film has its own spirit. In the first two of the dreams you cannot easily see the references, because those dreams were seen by a child; they are more imaginative and they don't have an aim to give a message, they have mostly view-based scenes. The other ones have messages based on technology, war and radioactivity. Awesome scenery, perfect fiction.