The ’80s were the golden years of the Art House cinema with their mix of independent, foreign and retro releases on the marquee. This was before the major studios got into the game with their Dependie domination of the market in the ’90s. During the ’80s there was an audience eager to watch international films as part of a cultured night out with popcorn. Not every foreign film was able to land a distribution deal which was the fate of To Sleep So As To Dream which played the prestigious New York Film Festival. Even with good reviews, the film didn’t even land a VHS deal. The Blu-ray is the first legit release of To Sleep So As To Dream since the Fall of 1986 when it played.
Silent film actress Madame Cherryblossom (Fujiko Fukamizu) discovers her daughter Bellflower has been kidnapped by a group calling themselves M. Pathe and Co. Instead of calling the cops, she hires detective Uotsuka (Shin Godzilla’s Shiro Sano) and his assistant Kobayashi to handle the ransom demands. The two private eyes have an obsession for hard boiled eggs. They also talk using title cards as if they are part of a silent film that the Madame had once made. This is not going to be the usual kidnap movie. The action shifts with a sense of unreality into elements from the actress’s silent film era experiences. Uotsuka begins to imagine Bellflower as the heroine of an unfinished movie. He becomes obsessed with her even as his ability to free her for the kidnappers isn’t going right. Will he ever complete his job and reunite Cherryblossom with Bellflower?
The film seems to fit in well with an audience that appreciates the work of David Lynch and Guy Madden. Kaizo Hayashi plays with so much in the telling of not only a detective film, but history of Japanese film itself. He explores elements found in a silent movie and has a little fun with it. There’s even a bit of Monty Python weirdness as a movie within the movie comes to an abrupt end when the wrong people step onto the set. Even with the comic highlights, there’s a sweetness to the ending. There’s a lot packed into such a quiet film.
Why was such a fascinating film not picked up by an American distributor in the ’80s? Perhaps To Sleep So As To Dream being in black and white was perceived as a drawback. The language wasn’t quite an issue since there’s not much talking. Most of the film’s dialogue is on title cards. This movie created a lot of silence which often makes people in theaters a bit uncomfortable since they can hear people in the next row crunching away on popcorn. Such sounds can easily break the dreamy atmosphere of the movie. The good news is that you can enjoy To Sleep So As To Dream at home to keep the reverie from breaking.
The video is 1.33:1 anamorphic so the image is windowboxed on the HDTV screen. Even though the film was shot on 16mm, the image looks sharp on the screen and not too grainy. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. The film is very quiet and sounds smooth. The movie is subtitled in English.
Audio commentary with director Kaizo Hayashi and lead actor Shiro Sano recorded in 2000 for the Japanese DVD. They speak in Japanese, but there are subtitles. Hayashi talks about how the production started with not much in the budget so they couldn’t afford wigs for the ninja elements. They didn’t have a makeup department when they started. Sano talks about the weirdness of making a silent film and how to deliver his lines knowing they wouldn’t be used.
Audio Commentary with Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp. They discuss the impact of the film at the time and legacy. They talk of the history of Japanese cinema from the silent days to the rise of independent Japanese filmmakers in the ’80s.
How Many Eggs? (28:49) catches up with actor Shiro Sano. He talks about how he met up with director Kaizô Hayashi. He gets into his portraying of an unusual detective.
Talking Silents: Benshi Midori Sawato Talks (18:13) has her talk about how the Benshi would read the words and narration during the silent film era.
Midori Sawato Performs ‘The Eternal Mystery’ (6:47) has her reading the script over the original footage.
The Restoration of To Sleep So as to Dream (4:01) has the director learning what they’re doing to the original 16mm negative back in December of 2018. He feels good touching his old film (with gloves on).
Fragments from Japan’s Lost Silent Heyday (2:40) features clips from silent jidai-geki films from the Kyoto Toy Museum archives. There’s a lot of early Samurai action.
Original Theatrical trailer (2:38) and English-language restored re-release trailer (2:38). The English-language as English subtitles.
Image gallery has 20 production stills, posters, publicity books and a prop from the film.
Arrow Video presents To Sleep So As To Dream. Director Kaizô Hayashi. Screenplay by Kaizô Hayashi. Starring Koji Otake, Kazunari Ozasa, Shirô Sano, Yoshio Yoshida & Akira Ôizumi, Morio Agata, Kenji Endo, Fujiko Fukamizu, Baiken Jukkanji & Moe Kamura. Running Time: 83 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: March 22, 2022.