I recently rewatched Akira, a show for all its many visual merits, has a gem with Tetsuo’s dream sequence in the “hospital” he was held. Granted, the dream was manipulated by the other ESPers but the presentation of the dream is a visual spectacle rarely rivaled in animation or elsewhere. I think I would have to rewatch Paprika to ascertain which film has a more visually remarkable dream sequence.
Last year I really enjoyed the film Inception, wholly devoted to dreaming, or at least had dreaming as a central science fiction conceit. It is similar to Paprika in focusing on dreaming as a subject within which the characters and the narrative play out. One thing common about these three films with their feature-length budgets, is that for all the visual spectacle and focus on dreaming, I feel no resonance with any of the dreams featured within. I am shown by and told by the narrative that dreams are occurring, but I don’t feel like I’m witnessing a dream like anything that I’ve had.
This isn’t that big a knock on these films, it’s not that I doubt the verisimilitude of the dreams. It’s just a matter of failing to find a personal connection with the featured dreams. But there are shows with dream sequences that ring very true for me. I’ll explore some of them in this post.
In the average, non-dream centric show, the dream more often than not serves as a montage of sorts as some kind of short-cut to leading the reader/viewer into some kind of insight on the dreamer. Also, the scene may serve as some kind of symbolic message for the viewers to interpret with or on behalf of the character dreaming. The payoff may be some kind of epiphany leading to choice/resolution of a story, or something indirectly moving the plot forward. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, it was all this and an attempt at resolution itself:
Interestingly enough, the clip show/recap episode of SDF Macross (17 “Phantasm”) for me portrays the most relatable dream sequence in anime. The dream logic seems very familiar to me. While Inception shows a highlight reel of Dom Cobb’s life, he dreams about the dramatic memories in his life, Hikaru’s dream shows more mundane slices of his past year. It perhaps is relatable because my life is more mundane than that of Inception’s Cobb. But not really, drama is relative and I can easily imagine a highlight reel of moments I’d relish to relive and wish to avoid at all costs to remember.
But this is not the heart of things. I can remember, with some vagueness of course, having dreamt similar dreams in similar ways. The important aspect of the dreams I had, and Ichijo’s, is the events remain the same, but what the people in the dream say are different. It is a very disconcerting feeling. I wonder with fear, who’s putting the words in these people’s mouths? If my dream is a projection of my fears and desires, then I’m the one making people not only say horrible things to me, but to each other. How could I be capable of such… malice!?
I exaggerate a bit, most of the time the things said between people in the dream are only horrible in context to my own discomfort hearing them. It’s not unlike writing fiction – I am not malicious for making a villain speak villainous speech. But since the dreams are not exercises in fiction writing, and involve characters who are real people, who I have real relationships with, what kind of will or at least desire do I have to cast them as villains?
Ichijo Hikaru doesn’t necessarily cast the people in his life as villains, and to be fair, much of the behavior of people in his dream are in character, but it does say something about Hikaru, how he’s cast himself as a victim of their words or at least the circumstances where they have power over him. The episode at least has to make this contribution, as to justify consideration of being beyond a mere clip show.
This is what I want to ask you, really. Among the shows (anime, film, what have you) you’ve consumed, what dream sequences do you resonate with? What or which ones feel true to you? Which ones don’t – and feel little more than an indulgence of the subject works?
As a touchstone regarding dreaming, I recommend the “animated” film Waking Life by Richard Linklater. The film explores the very nature of dreams, dream logic, in a contemplative and exploratory way as opposed to the action-centric/dramatic way Paprika and Inception do. An excerpt:
I was never really into dreams, dream exploration, or even documentation. But it is fascinating nonetheless, both as a subject of contemplation or as a possibility of escape, or release, from this sometimes crushingly boring and meaningless existence. I reiterate: What works of film, TV, or animation have you seen that contain dream sequences or content that resonate with you the most? Why?