It's a Twilight Zone episode, basically. Admittedly it's been done in a J-horror manga style by the director of Uzumaki, but it's still one of those movies that's built around one freaky idea. That's why it's under an hour long. If this were prose, it would be a short story.
The idea's weird, needless to say. What if you could live forever in your dreams? If a single night's dream were to seem to last a year, a decade or even a century, then you'd have discovered a subjective immortality. This sounds all very well, but of course this is a J-horror movie and they've come up with some seriously creepy downsides. For a start, you'd get ever more detached from reality. You'd wake up in the morning having just spent twelve months trapped in a nightmare, so the day that everyone else is calling yesterday would to you seem to be actually last year. You might be speaking with a new accent.
What's more, if this became still more extreme, you'd effectively be shooting off into mankind's future. While all your friends and loved ones were stuck in the year 2000, you'd be a one-man time traveller. The 21st century would end up merely a distant memory, albeit one you're very occasionally returned to by something that you used to know as "waking up".
This is great. It also feels very 1950s, in the wide-eyed way it's addressing what could loosely be called SF. That was after all the decade of the Twilight Zone, The Incredible Shrinking Man and some insane, unselfconscious designs for movie aliens. Sleep too much in this film and you might turn into something as ridiculous as the freakazoids from This Island Earth. Look at those bulbous fish-like eyes. That's not even remotely interested in naturalism. I can't believe this film isn't based on a manga and I'd be tempted to put money on it being by Junji Ito... hang on, let me look this up.
Whoah. I was right! Honestly, I really did write those words before looking up the film's imdb webpage.
The nutjob behind Tomie and Uzumaki strikes again, with a story that's reminiscent of those two predecessors in the way it's taking us to a world where unreality is pretty much the whole point. Investigating further, there seems to have been a metric ton of Junji Ito adaptations in 2000. I've found evidence of seven in that year alone, or perhaps nine if you count The Hanging Balloons as three because it's an anthology. Only half of those appear on imdb, but that's hardly unknown for foreign-language TV adaptations. This one appears, though. What's more, it's directed by Higuchinsky, who also directed Uzumaki (i.e. by all accounts the best Junji Ito film) and almost nothing else to date. There's a 2003 action movie he wrote and directed, which sank without trace and seemingly took his career with it.
I'm happy to know that this was TV, by the way. That makes sense of the running time and incidentally makes me more forgiving of the plot. It's a mood piece with some wonderful ideas and visuals, so perhaps it needn't matter so much that they don't really lead anywhere. I opened this review by comparing Long Dream with the Twilight Zone, but that's probably unfair because that show was always dazzlingly clear about its punchlines. This one's more feverish. It's all about dreams, plus on top of that you've got the fact that Junji Ito doesn't live in the same reality as the rest of us to begin with. In fairness the plot does reach a conclusion, but it's a confusing nightmare that's more interested in being disturbed than in extrapolating consequences of the "eternal dream" concept.
It's another J-horror film set in a hospital, but it doesn't feel hospital-ly. There aren't enough people for that. Instead it creates its own green-lit claustrophobic world of mad doctors, mentally disturbed patients and really unlucky nurses. Trust me on that last one. In addition there's lots of CCTV, video recordings and night vision footage, giving people the same gleaming vampire eyes we saw in [REC].
The music's odd, though. Piano stings aren't an obvious choice for a horror film, to put it mildly, but the clanging metal bells and tubes work better.
Overall the gore's not too extreme and the budget's obviously minimal, but that's a positive quality. The low budget helps it breathe. Hollywood gloss would kill it. It's intense. Its central idea is fascinating and Junji Ito takes it to some peculiar places, although later on he'll be throwing in a few unrelated curveballs too. It's a pretty good film. You'll be more impressed if you approach it remembering that it's an hour of TV, but it's easily measuring up to regular cinema fare if what you're looking for is strangeness.