Long Dream Review

The Film

It’s been two months since a young man by the name of Tetsuro Mukouda (Shuuji Kashiwabara) checked himself in for psychiatric evaluation. Claiming to suffer from intolerably long dreams, which he describes as lasting months and even years, he’s remained under the vigilant watch of Doctor Kuroda (Masami Horiuchi). Meanwhile a female patient named Mami (Tsugumi) is being taken care of by Doctor Yamauchi (Kenjiro Tsuda). As Tetsuro’s dreams become longer and longer, so too does his body rapidly alter in appearance. Soon he starts walking the halls, in turn upsetting Mami who complains that Death itself is coming to take her. All the while Doctor Kuroda - still struggling to cope since the loss of his wife Kana (Eriko Hatsune) - begins to salivate over his study results, that perhaps the key to immortality is through this deep state of sleep. Madness ensues…


I remain surprised by how little we’ve seen and heard of Higuchinsky over the past few years. Breaking out in 2000 with his fascinatingly surreal adaptation of Junji Ito’s manga Uzumaki, the Ukrainian-born director came up trumps with what is one of the finest horror films of the past ten years. He showed immense talent in realising the works of one of his personal idols; demonstrating particular skill in marrying CG and live action to create such a bizarre and twisted environment. Post the success of Uzumaki he was given an opportunity to adapt yet another Ito tale, this time for television. The budget was considerably lower, but he wasn’t short on story ideas. Nagai Yume or Long Dream was but the second of three films to date, the latest being 2003’s Tokyo 10+01. In the time between making films Higuchinsky has been very busy in the promotional side of the entertainment industry, having directed many a TV spot, music video and DVD material. It’s difficult to know if he’ll surface again in theatres, but on the face of his most recent work it might not be for another few years, if at all.

Long Dream’s premise is certainly interesting enough; a far more cerebral effort than the director’s debut of the same year, it sees writer Ito challenging the notion of reality versus dreamscape. Not an entirely new concept, nonetheless he attempts to address the ramifications of a particular sleeping disorder through a keen use of philosophy, all the while sticking to an unsavoury atmosphere to drive along a creepy little tale. Or at least that’s what I think he’s trying to do. Trouble is there’s no realistic frame of reference here, just endless assumption; it certainly poses questions but it never goes anywhere with them. Skirting around a bunch of conjectures and psychology on such a baseless scale it never makes its intentions all that clear. It’s as if Ito can’t fathom his own suppositions. We never truly get inside of Tetsuro’s head in order to be allowed to remotely understand what he’s going through and the film doesn’t successfully make us think about the potentially worthwhile concept of perpetual dreaming, so much as it does in making us try to fathom the actual logic behind this idea.

By large that makes things a little tough to go along with as we think about various holes in the story, leaving Long Dream better off as a fairly routine mystery with just a little more conviction placed behind its characterizations. Higuchinsky does well to disguise the history of a primary player and it’s clear that the narrative is far more concerned in uncovering some personal truths relating to themes of madness and obsession, demonstrating that perhaps the whole dream mumbo jumbo and scientific theorems was nothing but a trifling excuse to masquerade a typical psychological horror as something a whole lot more deep and meaningful. And even if we might not necessarily care about the young leads on account of them having next to no history or memorable qualities we do get some good performances and one or two decent twists as it passes the half-way mark, although by this point it’s almost like we’re watching a different film entirely. But then in hindsight we’re hardly looking at anything particularly close to reality here. Higuchinsky quickly turns his male lead in to a bug-eyed, bulbous-headed freak of nature and proceeds to win over his audience with some technical wizardry and violent encounters. Only Long Dream is hardly Uzumaki. He never achieves anything quite so distinct, partially due to an exceedingly low budget and make-up effects which appear unintentionally humorous. Granted he does what he can and delivers one or two familiar signature pieces, and the interview segments are considerably eerie, but you get the impression that there’s a certain amount of struggling going on, particularly with the repetitive use of some technical shots and a very limited stage that allows little room for eccentrics.


The DVD

A/V

Presented non-anamorphically at 1.78:1 Long Dream looks OK given its production values. Shot on DV in 2000 it looks as to be expected. There’s a slight softness throughout, a healthy amount of aliasing and some pretty heavy ringing: all of this I’m putting down to the source rather than the transfer itself, which is pretty solid and if I’m not mistaken progressive. There are some very minor compression artefacts which rear their heads during some of the lower-lit portions, but otherwise things hold up very well.

The Japanese Stereo track is standard stuff. It’s perfectly capable with handling dialogue and sound effects and with no drop-outs and the like, but it’s nothing fancy. Zunata’s score isn’t particularly inspired, being more of an annoyance, but it’s channelled decently.

Optional English subtitles are included - as with the bonus material - and they offer a good translation with no errors to report of.

Extras

Although the extras aren’t particularly meaty they are a nice enough addition to the disc. We have an Interview with Junji Ito (4.01), who talks about the story and the inspiration behind it, along with his own philosophy on life and death and his liking of Higuchinsky. His “Life being an illusion” is a bit barmy, but he’s easy to go along with. Interview with Higuchinsky (5.15) is a little stranger. The director doesn’t like to have his identity revealed, and so his face is covered by a mosaic for the duration. He talks of his fascination for Junji Ito; casting his players; the general tasks of adapting Ito’s stories and why he chose Long Dream in particular. Interview with Shuuji Kashiwabara (3.49) sees the actor go through the usual routine. He’s asked about how he approached the role and what he thinks of the director and his fellow cast members. The Bonus Interviews (6.06) feature Higuchinsky and Junji Ito offering a few more personal insights into their works. The director elaborates a little more on adapting comics and fondly talks about actress Eriko Hatsune, while Ito talks about where his inspiration comes from and how he feels about manga adaptations.

The disc is rounded off with a Long Dream Trailer and several other trailers for Tidepoint Pictures releases.


Overall

On the basis of the slightly awkward and predictable Tokyo 10+01, which was written by Higuchinsky, it would seem his success as a director ultimately lies with his passion for what he’s adapting, and none is more unbridled than his love for manga-ka Junji Ito. Long Dream, however, is admittedly a bit of a disappointment. Going into the film with high expectations is natural, especially if you’re already well familiar with Higuchinsky’s marvellous Uzumaki. The film is ambitious but despite the director trying to throw everything at us bar the kitchen sink it still feels rather timid. A film for the curious for certain, but one that makes us wonder if its director is indeed a one-hit wonder.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
4 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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