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To Sleep So as to Dream
Directed and released in 1986 by filmmaker Kaizô Hayashi, To Sleep So As To Dream tells the story of a private eye named Uotsuka (Shiro Sano) and his right hand man Kobayashi who are approached by a Madame Cherryblossom (Fujiko Fukamizu), a one-time actress who has aged and left her best years behind her. She tasks them with tracking down her daughter, who is known by the name of Bellflower (Moe Kamura), who she believes has been kidnapped.
As Uotsuka and Kobayashi start working the case, they follow what few clues they can find and eventually things start pointing towards a film studio called The M. Pathe Company. While in the studio, Uotsuka experiences a vision where he meets a beautiful actress from a Chanbara film made way back in 1915 that was never finished. From here, the lines between the ‘real world' that Uotsuka and Kobayashi exist in and the one in which actress exists in begin to blur in interesting ways, and the plot very definitely thickens.
To Sleep So As To Dream is an interesting film, very well-put together using frequent silent movie styled intertitles and narration from a Benshi (Benshi being an interesting Japanese cultural quirk where someone would narrate silent films live in the theater for an audience), played by Shunsui Matsuda (who was an actual Benshi back in the early 1900s) to give much of the film's running time an appropriate period look. Rife with references to plenty of older Japanese pictures, the film, plays out on some striking looking sets created by Nikkatsu's Takeo Kimura and features a great score as well as some genuinely striking cinematography courtesy of Yûichi Nagata. Thematically, you can't help but think of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo, as the film toys around with some very similar themes, but To Sleep So As To Dream is very definitely its own thing, not just because of the different cultural aspects inherent in its Japanese origins, but because it winds up doing quite a few different things as its plot expands to set it apart.
The acting in the film is really solid. Shiro Sano makes for a really good lead, he fits the detective type really well and as things get progressively stranger, his performance suits the evolving tone of the film pretty much perfectly. Fujiko Fukamizu is also very good here, playing the mysterious Madame Cherryblossom with no small amount of style and using her unique screen presence to very much make the character her own. Moe Kamura is mesmerizing in her role, and Kaizô Hayashi does a great job of making her character as elegant as she is mysterious. In many ways, however, by Shunsui Matsuda's work as the Benshi is a highlight of the film. While not a young man when this film was made (he died shortly after it was completed), the infectious enthusiasm we hear in his narration is a big part of what makes the movie as fun as it is.
The story does a really nice job of weaving elements from the ‘movie within a movie' into the ‘real world' where the picture begins, and it winds up creating a really fun and interesting mystery that audiences can latch onto. There are plenty of interesting twists and turns to experience along the way, weird and unexpected moments where the film toys with some near-surrealism concepts and visuals, plenty of quirky characters, interesting set pieces and even a bit of action here and there (working elements of classic Chanbara pictures and vintage American film noir pictures into the storyline in fairly healthy doses). All of this combines to create a wholly entertaining film that dares to try something different and very much succeeds at that.
Never before released on home video outside of Japan, Arrow Video brings To Sleep So As To Dream to Region A Blu-ray framed in 1.37.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 24GBS of space on a 50GB disc. Taken from a new 2k scan of the original16mm negative, the black and white image looks very good, with nice contrast and strong depth and detail. The 16mm format means it'll always look a bit heavy in terms of grain, but there isn't much actual print damage here to note, just the odd speck now and again. Black levels look nice and deep and the image always looks appropriately filmic, showing no noticeable problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts.
A 24-bit DTS-HD Mono option is provided in the film's original Japanese language with English subtitles. Overall, the track sounds quite clean with no audible issues. This isn't a particularly bombastic film, in fact it barely has any dialogue, but it is balanced well and the mix sounds just fine.
Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Kaizo Hayashi and Shiro Sano presented in Japanese with English subtitles. This is quite an interesting talk that goes over the making of the film in some detail, explaining the origins of the picture, talking up the contributions of the different cast and crew members, discussing the timeline for its creation and quite a bit more. A second commentary features Japanese cinema experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp. This one is, understandably, more analytical and it covers not only the history of the movie but the different influences that are apparent in the movie, nods to films from Japan's past and lots more.
As far as featurettes go, How Many Eggs? Shiro Sano Talks is an interesting twenty-nine minute piece where the film's leading man speaks about his experiences working on the picture, Kaizô Hayashi, his part and how he feels about the movie. Talking Silents: Benshi Midori Sawato Talks is an eighteen minute piece where he talks about the Japanese tradition of Benshi films and the obvious influence that Benshi had on the feature. Midori Sawato Performs The Eternal Mystery is an interesting seven minute piece that shows Benshi being performed, with Sawato doing the act for a clip from the titular production. The Restoration Of To Sleep So As To Dream is a quick four minute piece where we learn how director Kaizo Hayashi supervised the restoration. Fragments From Japan's Lost Silent Heyday is a quick three minute piece that showcases a few of scenes from some silent stored at the Kyoto Toy Museum.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are two trailers for the feature, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options. Additionally, the first pressing will include a color insert booklet that contains an essay on the film by director Kaizo Hayashi as well as cast and crew credits and credits for the Blu-ray release itself.
To Sleep So As To Dream is a fun film, as entertaining as it is quirky and unique, and in many ways a fascinating love letter to Japan's cinematic legacy. Arrow has done a great job bringing this underappreciated film to western audiences with a very nice presentation and a strong collection of extra features that do a nice job of complimenting and exploring the feature. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.