‘To Sleep So As to Dream’ Brings the Art of Film to the Forefront
Kaizô Hayashi’s first feature film, To Sleep So As to Dream, is a beautiful dreamlike pastiche of genre and art films, mystery & noir playing front and center. Spread across three distinct filmic decades (three decades apart no less) the film borrows conventions from the 1920s and 1950s in its presentation while production took place in the 1980s. It lifts the style of the silent noir with perfect delicacy, Hollywood-like even. Its central mystery ties to an aging star who hires a team of two detectives to find her daughter, Bellflower, and bring her back to safety.
Hayashi’s command of pure visuals is something to behold, as he is able to bob and weave through straight literal depictions within the frame and surrealist imagery akin to Guy Maddin, sometimes even merging the two. Kobayashi and Uotsuka, the detectives-for-hire, can be seen deep in thought over solving their clues by eating boiled eggs compulsively or riding a horse-shaped spring rider and blowing bubbles to really fire off the synapses. Eat your heart out, Sherlock Holmes.
In true 50’s noir fashion our gumshoes don’t truly begin learning anything central to their case until they stumble out into the world and start to put things together, trial after continuous trial, and continuous error. Detectives Uotsuka and Kobayashi exercise in good confidence their actions whether or not they lead to error; because they cannot read the signs plainly in front of them doesn’t discourage them from starting to learn how to read them. Each clue leads them from one wild situation to the next. Hayashi’s direction and writing brings our characters back around playfully to places they’ve been before but with previous insight they see the road they come back to with new eyes.
To Sleep So As to Dream wonders and wanders along with its viewers on the same level and is clearly a letter of love to its various influences, even casting Shunsui Matsuda, a Benshi (Japanese silent film narrator & commentator) and film preservationist, to narrate the film. Hayashi knew that the subject of his film was less the mystery than film itself. In approaching its rich history, not only does he directly participate in the visual trends of the ’20s but applies the attitudes & sounds of the ’50s, which ring pure, but its reverence to the time capsule of the moving picture drives its true emotions home.
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