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Ulises [Celluloid 06.19.08] movie review scifi horror

Year: 2000
Release date: Tuesday, June 24th
Director: Higuchinsky
Writer: Higuchinsky & Kyoichi Nanatsuki & Junji Ito (comic)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Amazon: link
Review by: Ulises Silva
Rating: 8.8 out of 10

You know that dream when you win the lottery, and you’re busy drawing up plans for that $41.4 billion you just won? Or that dream where you meet the person of your dreams (no pun intended) and you go on to marry him/her/it? Waking up from them kind of sucks, because it takes you a few agonizing seconds to realize, dang it, it was all a dream, and you have to get to work right away because you overslept (counting those billions took a while, after all).

And then there are those other dreams. The ones referred to in some circles as nightmares. The ones that involve being chased by something horrible, hideous, and terrifying—like a giant, floating Uwe Boll film. Now, for whatever reason, those are the ones you don’t wake up from in a timely fashion. Nope. Your mind, ever the sadist, always wakes you up when you’re about to…kiss that dream person of yours, or when you’re about to tell your boss off and somehow wave your billions at him/her/it. But when it’s a dream about being chased by a hideous monster (e.g., a giant, floating Uwe Boll film), nope, that’s when your brain decides to let you stew in your own terror a bit more. Either way, these dreams suck—you wake up from them too soon, or you can’t wake up from them fast enough.

But, in the end, it’s not as bad as, say, having a bad dream that spans days, months, years, and centuries. Unfortunately for the characters of Higuchinsky’s Long Dream (Nagai Yume), that’s exactly what happens. Over the course of a single night, these long dreams span across a space of time that continues to increase exponentially. Is it a disease? A curse? Or a path to immortality?

That’s the premise of Long Dream, a one-hour Japanese made-for-TV film based off the original manga written by Ito Junji. A pensive, atmospheric descent into obsession, Long Dream is J-Horror with a Twilight Zone feel and production value. And while it might be difficult forking over full-movie price for a one-hour movie with made-for-TV makeup and effects, Long Dream is certainly a well-told and provocative story that should satisfy and intrigue even casual viewers.

The entire story takes place in a hospital, where we meet two doctors and their two patients de jour. One is a young doctor, Dr. Yamauchi, who is treating a young woman named Mami. Mami has a benign tumor, but she’s convinced she’s going to die. So much so, when a strange, inhuman figure creeps into her room in the middle of the night, she freaks out, convinced it’s Death himself. Turns out, it isn’t Death. It’s another patient, Mukouda, and he’s under the direct care of Dr. Kuroda.

Still, one could hardly blame Mami for thinking Mukouda is Death. I think it had something to do with his bony, vampire-like fingers, his giant, buggy eyes, and his generally inhuman appearance. But his neurologist, Dr. Kuroda, assures the startled Yamauchi that Mukouda shouldn’t be feared. The poor guy just has a disease, that’s all. And no, it’s not herpes.

Turns out, Mukouda is afraid to sleep nowadays. Because every time he sleeps, his dreams last a long time. Way longer than the single night that passes for Dr. Mukouda and everyone else. No, for this poor guy, dreams begin to span days, then weeks, then months, then years. And by the time the story actually starts, Mukouda has just had a dream that’s lasted 500 years, and it’s starting to affect him physically. Hence his hideous, inhuman, Death-like appearance.

To Dr. Kuroda, Mukoudo’s strange illness is a welcome mystery. Because he realizes that these timeless dreams—these dreams where a person can undergo centuries of experience over the course of a single night—are a path to immortality. And they’re his path to a beautiful young woman named Kana, whose painful memory haunts his waking moments. Mukoudo begs to differ—he explains that, if the dreams were pleasant, then the whole thing wouldn’t be so bad. But they’re not pleasant. They are dreams of infinite torment and torture and helplessness. And they keep getting longer.

Dr. Kuroda’s fascination with Mukoudo’s condition becomes obsession. And when Mukoudo’s next dream (hmmm, if the last one lasted 500 years, then this one would last…) takes its predictable toll, the good doctor sets about to find a way of transmitting this ‘disease’ to others, to see if he’s indeed found a path to immorality, and to Kana. Like any good Twilight Zone episode, his obsession leads to dire consequences—for him, for Yamauchi, for Mami, and for a nurse—and to a final twist that reveals just how tenuous the line between dream and reality really is.

Neatly contained within its one-hour run time, Long Dream is an engaging narrative because it posits an intriguing scenario and submerges itself fully within it. It forces us to imagine the hidden terrors of these endless dreams, and the false salvation they promise as imagined paths to immortality and loved ones. I keep bringing up the Twilight Zone because, in many ways, Rod Serling’s original series was all about asking tough, intriguing questions, and exploring them in oftentimes terrifying fashion. Such is the case with Long Dream, where the slow, ominous narrative shadows Dr. Kuroda’s gradual descent into obsession, and where the lines between dream and reality are blurred for both the characters and the viewer.

In a way, Long Dream has to tell a very good, engaging story. That’s because everything else about the movie is no-frills. From its repetitive, recycled soundtrack (taken from the Anime series Gunslinger Girls, my brother assured me), to the same shot of the hospital used for each exterior shot (and the same full moon night after night), to the cheesy make-up effects that seem straight out of a 50’s flying saucer movie (e.g., Attack of the Bug-Eyed Vampire Things Who Desperately Need Sunglasses and a Nail Clipper), Long Dream isn’t going to win any awards for its production values. But it doesn’t need to. Because even if the special effects and make-up look made for TV, the acting, the pacing, and the narrative is on par with the best Japanese cinematic horror. Higuchinsky brings to bear many of the elements J-horror fans know and love—the pervasive sense of dread, the deep, brooding voiceovers, the haunting images of loss—and weaves them seamlessly to augment an already solid story.

Which just goes to show that, in the end, a good story with silly effects will always beat the bad story with the bloated special effects budget. Kind of like the way they say good pitching will always beat good hitting. Or how a decent homemade film will always beat an Uwe Boll film. Long Dream may be a short film with made-for-TV production values, but it’s a great film, a better story that merits multiple viewings, and certainly worth a look (or the full-movie price if you love J-horror as much as I do). If nothing else, it’ll help you realize that, yes, there are worse things than dreaming you’re at work naked. Assuming you don’t dream you’re working 18 hours of overtime the next night, and 510 hours of OT the next. In which case I’d recommend a good pair of sunglasses, and maybe a nail clipper.

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