A JAPANESE film to be shown at the Hongkong International Film Festival may be just the movie for those looking for something unconventional. I've Heard the Ammonite Murmur (1991), directed by Isao Yamada, comes close to a feature-length experimental movie. Departing from the mainstream Japanese films, it is a journey in dreams - a visual fantasy of a series of images. Of all objects, Yamada chooses the unfamiliar ammonite as the motif of his work. An inorganic object that does not mean much to the layman except the archaelogists, the marine shell becomes, interestingly, the key to unlocking the emotional mystery of a central character. The story begins with a young mineralogist (Kenzo Saeki) undertaking a long journey to visit his beloved sister (Hiroko Ishimaru), who is seriously ill in a hospital by the seashore. The plot and the dialogue are reduced to the basic. As the protagonist Kenzo declares: ''This is the first minimal-entertainment-art film ever in Japan!'' And the audience may be puzzled by the repeated appearance of an ammonite, ticking away like a clock. To Yamada, the coiled marine mollusc symbolises Kenzo's world as a mineralogist. He chose the inorganic mineral, a synonym for death, to connection with people. ''The only exception is his love towards his sister which he gradually becomes aware of,'' said Yamada. The ammonite time-machine actually takes Kenzo back in time. In one dream, Kenzo goes back to his childhood and watches his mother tenderly combing his sister's long black hair. The next moment he finds a grown-up Hiroko patting his head by the sea. Yamada's Kenzo sees his double in his sister and projects feminine and unconscious part of him to her. ''The unconsciousness is depicted as dreams in the film,'' the director said. But what does an ammonite has to do with dreams? ''I want to present an infinite circular labyrinth where you can never get out of dreams. The shape of the ammonite reminds us of it. To me, dream is . . . a frightening world where you could be locked up and never get away.'' Yamada creates his sense of art from the surrealistic picture book-like images set in the refreshing snowy landscape of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Emotions of the characters are not so much expressed by dialogues as by the contemplative and nostalgic music, which has a soothing effect on the audience. This is the first feature length work for the 41-year-old artist-turned-director who has received critical acclaim in Europe and Canada for his 16 mm films. I Have Heard the Ammonite Murmur will be shown on April 9 and 14 in the City Hall Theatre and the Hongkong Space Museum. Half-priced tickets of $19 for students are available at all URBTIX outlets from April 2.