REVIEW: Long Dream (2000)

A young man is admitted into psychiatric care. He claims that he is having ‘long dreams’. He goes to sleep, and in the space of a few hours experiences six months in his dream world. Soon he is dreaming for a year, then ten years. How far will his ‘long dreams’ go, and what will happen to him in the end?

I am a huge fan of Uzumaki, a weird and unsettling Japanese horror movie directed by Higuchinsky (a pseudonymous Ukrainian/Japanese filmmaker) and based on the manga by Junji Ito. Ito is a big star name in the manga industry, thanks to his massive range of horror manga that come with their own distinctive aesthetic and creepy tone. Uzumaki is not a huge commercial hit compared to some other Ito adaptations – particularly his popular Tomie franchise – but it is my personal favourite. Even more obscure than Uzumaki, however, is Long Dream. It was directed by Higuchinsky in the same year, as a 60-minute made-for-television film. It’s a much, much cheaper production, shot on videotape with little in the way of mise-en-scene or production values. Like Uzumaki it faithfully adapts Ito’s horror manga. It’s scrappy as hell, with cheap make-up effects and slightly dodgy performances. It’s also brilliant.

There are basically two things that make a strong, positive impression. The first is how effectively Higuchinksy translates Ito’s visual imagery to live action. The prosthetic make-up used to demonstrate Mukoda’s horrific evolution as his dreams extend further and further is superficially rather silly, like a bug-eyed rubber mask. On the other hand it translates Ito’s style to live-action with a fidelity no other film has accomplished. It is silly, yes, but at the same time it gets under your skin. It becomes disturbing the longer that you watch it. Higuchinsky nails the aesthetic, and with significantly less money than he had available to adapt Uzumaki.

The second thing that sticks in the mind after watching the film is just how horrific the central concept is. Falling asleep, living a week in a nightmare, and then waking up the next morning is a brutal enough concept to give the viewer a shiver. But a year in a nightmare, only to wake up and discover that none of it was real or mattered? What about ten years? Or five hundred? At the core of Long Dream is a concept so horrible that it overcomes all budget shortcomings and really lingers in the mind. It is terror on a truly cosmic scale, and it is rare to see a horror movie tackle an idea that is so enormous. By the film’s climax its central victim is suffering torment on a unimaginable lever.

The performances have a slightly over-done and hammy quality to them. It gives the film a sense of pulp, for sure, but I do wonder what the story would be like with more realistic acting. With some extra money thrown at the production, this could have really been something – in fact I would be quite happy for Higuchinsky to revisit the core material one day with a longer running time, and a budget to afford him more time in making it. As it stands, it is an unexpected little gem of Japanese screen horror. Once you have seen it, you are unlikely to ever forget it.

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