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Originally published Friday, September 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Ten Nights of Dreams": The stuff that 10 dreams are made of

"Ten Nights of Dreams": This anthology of 10 fictional "dreams," based on the book of short stories by Japanese writer Soseki Natsume, is worth seeing for the consistency of its vision. With 10 stories adapted by 11 directors (two collaborated on an animated segment), the film delivers an abundance of fantasy/horror that effectively plays on the subconscious.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

"Ten Nights of Dreams," directed by Akio Jissoji, Kon Ichikawa, Takashi Shimizu, Atsushi Shimizu, Keisuke Toyoshima, Suzuki Matsuo, Yoshitaka Amano and Simmei Kawahara, Nobuhiro Yamashita, Miwa Nishikawa and Yudai Yamaguchi. Based on short stories by Soseki Natsume. 100 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains some graphic images, brief violence). In Japanese and English with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.

If a movie adaptation makes you eager to read the material it's based on, it's a sure sign that the movie is honoring its source. That's the impression left by "Ten Nights of Dreams," a spectacular though somewhat enigmatic anthology film based on the 1908 short-story collection by celebrated Japanese writer Soseki Natsume (1867-1916).

The film's powerful images and creepy abundance of horror and fantasy at least partially recall the 1965 ghost-story classic "Kwaidan," and Natsume's recurrent themes ring loud and clear in 10 "dreams" directed by 11 of Japan's top-ranking directors (the seventh "dream" being a two-man collaboration). None of the films attempts to solve the deliberate riddle of Natsume's stories, but that only serves to tantalize the viewer with mysterious sequences that play on our subconscious, like the dreams that inspired them.

Styles run the gamut from serene naturalism to mind-blowing animation and bizarre horror/fantasy. Along the way, Natsume's dreams (actually nightmares) span Japan's historical periods with tales involving mutant children, magical woodcarvers, samurai enlightenment, matching mummies and a couple of bulging eyeballs dangling from their sockets for reasons both horrific and humorous.

Veteran director Kon Ichikawa films the samurai dream (No. 2 in the series) like a silent melodrama, while the mischievous freak-child appears in No. 3, from "The Grudge" director Takashi Shimizu. And while some may prefer the subtler segments over the eye-candy of the animated segment (No. 7) or the wacky weirdness delivered by Yudai Yamaguchi in dream No. 10, there's something in these "Ten Nights" for the dreamer in all of us.

Jeff Shannon:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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