On Friday night (actually, very early Saturday morning), I dreamed that I was watching TV and saw an image of what I interpreted as being a whale with many eyes, though I only saw its face. It was blue in color, with a row of eyes on the left and a row of eyes on the right — perhaps eight eyes in all. It also had feelers on the sides of its mouth like a catfish. I dreamed that, after seeing this, I got on Wikipedia to do some research, trying to find out if whales with many eyes actually existed. I found information about a particular gene (with a Latin-sounding name which I no longer remember), rare but not unheard of (comparable to albinism), which manifests sometimes in whales and other animals and causes them to have several pairs of eyes. Now that I knew the name of the gene, I ran a Google image search on it and found several pictures of animals with it — several blue whales, killer whales, and other cetaceans, as well as a couple of tigers. As I did this online research, I had the feeling that I had learned about this gene once before but had forgotten about it. My reaction was, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That gene.”
So much for the dream.
On Saturday evening, I watched the DVD of the film “47 Ronin” — a fantasified version of the Japanese historical incident, with monsters, demons, a fox-spirit “witch,” and Keanu Reeves thrown in.
In an early scene in the movie, Reeves and a group of samurai are chasing down some sort of giant beast — think qilin-meets-gigantelope. For most of the sequence we don’t get a clear view of its face, but then it stops, turns to face Reeves, and opens its eyes — of which we now discover for the first time that it has six. Here is a screenshot:
This image jolted me with a shock of recognition. Aside from the fur, horns, and nostrils, it looks exactly like the many-eyed “whale” I saw in my dream.
This is one of the clearest instances of apparent dream-precognition I’ve experienced yet. The dream even correctly portrayed the beast as being something I saw on TV. And after watching the movie, I did go online (using Wikipedia and Google image search, among other resources) to try to find out whether the beast was based on some actual Japanese legend — but that’s something I chose to do after experiencing both the dream and the movie and recognizing the connection between them, so it can’t really be counted as a “fulfillment” of the dream.
I enjoyed “47 Ronin,” by the way, despite the uniformly negative reviews it has been getting from critics. It undeniably has its awful aspects, the most obvious of which is the concept itself. Imagine if a Chinese studio made a King Arthur movie in which Lancelot had some made-up Chinese sidekick who was actually Guinevere’s true love and the greatest knight of them all — and in which the rest of the cast, all British, had to speak their lines in Chinese — and you’ll get some idea of how ridiculous and even insulting this movie must seem to the Japanese. (Also, the 47 ronin actually lived in the 18th century — more Queen Anne than King Arthur — far too recent for monsters, demons, and other fantasy elements to be appropriate.) I also admit to groaning when the fox-spirit unaccountably transformed into a dragon — which looked like the seraphic Chinese/Japanese variety but behaved like the evil fire-breathing Western version.
I’m not Japanese, though, and have no particular attachment to the original story they were butchering, so I was able to enjoy the movie on its own terms. It was visually engaging, and I thought it did a good job of communicating the stern, stoical samurai spirit (or, at any rate, what this relatively uninformed Westerner imagines to have been the stern, stoical samurai spirit).
One of the most provocative aspects of the movie, to me, was the portrayal of the tengu — forest-dwelling bird-demons of Japanese folklore — as Buddhists. Not as bird-demons who also happen to be Buddhists, mind you, but as Buddhists plain and simple. Although they do look very slightly different from humans (no ears, strange nostrils), their religion is their chief distinguishing characteristic. They’re still demons, to be sure — cold, cruel, nihilistic, and possessed of magical powers — but their demonic nature is portrayed as being part and parcel of their Buddhism. I thought it was a pretty gutsy move to literally demonize a major world religion other than Christianity, but oddly the filmmakers don’t seem to be getting any flak for it. Although Buddhism obviously has its good aspects like any other religion, it does certainly have a very strong current of inhuman/anti-human “demonic” nihilism running through it — something that becomes more obvious to me the more practicing Buddhists I meet — and I thought the portrayal of the tengu was brilliant and rang true. Since the samurai ethos can also seem superficially cold and inhuman, the tengu provided a very effective contrast which helped bring out the essentially human, noble nature of bushido.