Yumemiru yôni nemuritai
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DIRECTED BY: Kaizô Hayashi
FEATURING: Shirô Sano, Koji Otake, Fujiko Fukamizu, Yoshio Yoshida
PLOT: A retired film star hires Uotsuka and Kobayashi, a pair of down-on-their-luck detectives, to track down her daughter Bellflower, who was kidnapped by riddle-loving criminals.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The detective genre is turned on its head and spell-bound to slumber in Kaizô Hayashi’s silent film debut. This playful noir is fueled by dream logic, pantomime capering, and a nostalgia more full-throated than ‘s—as well as hundreds of hard-boiled eggs.
COMMENTS: In the market for the best P.I. in town? Then look no further than the Uotsuka Detective Agency. Sure, his schedule may be empty—so much so that his chalkboard agenda has nothing more than a doodled face on it. And he may not have the best assistant—Kobayashi idles away his time riding a pneumatic horse. But Uotsuka is as hard-boiled as they come, as proven by his in-office hen and his egg-only diet. Fine, fine, he may not be the best for everyone, but for an aging silent film star whose daughter has disappeared, his knack for riddles and protein-fueled energy fits the bill perfectly.
Kaizô Hayashi places his love of nigh-lost cinema squarely in the foreground in To Sleep So As To Dream, his directorial (and screenwriting and producing) debut. He presents the film in the Academy ratio, records in black-and-white, and, in his clever way, makes a “silent” film. Audio effects (knocked doors, clinked metal, thumped guns) are sprinkled in judiciously, but there is no spoken dialogue from the on-screen characters, who communicate through facial expressions, gestures, and often-novel intertitle cards. (As the detective obsesses over the clue “General Tower,” those words completely fill the screen.) Two circumstances break this silence: whenever a recording is played—invariably from the kidnappers, whose love of money is matched only by their love of riddling—and in the presence of a benshi.
Another throw-back to classic Japanese cinema, the benshi was the live narrator of a silent film, telling the story and interpreting the on-screen action as a film is projected. This aural eccentricity underpins the embellished performances, making for a self-aware, but never parodying, silent-style experience. The combination of off-kilter and heightened reality makes To Sleep a creditable facsimile for a dream, and Kaizô is well aware of what he’s up to. Pursuing a trio of gyroscope-peddling magicians (a “chase” sequence I can only describe as “goofily suspenseful”), Uotsoka has a nasty run-in with a handful of goons and loses two million yen. After awakening from his wallop, he meets up with his client to reassure her, “…Bellflower and the money will be found—if the whole thing isn’t just a dream.”
Kaizô Hayashi is a film nostalgist, bringing to that embryonic genre his impressive visual sense and deft sound engineering to craft an experience both innovative and sentimental. (If To Sleep So As To Dream wasn’t an inspiration to, I’d be much surprised. ) Our experience of Uotsuka’s and Kobayashi’s serpentine meanderings through theme parks, carnivals, dreamscape movie theaters—and even a memory-warping film shoot—is what movies are all about: the bending of technique to vision so as to create storytelling art.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Cinema is of course a medium of dreams, and this metacinematic film about the belated, backward-looking pursuit of something as elusive as lost youth or a bygone medium certainly comes packed with elements of an oneiric nature. Not since Giulio Questi’s similarly surreal Death Laid An Egg, from 1968, had there been a film so singularly obsessed with chickens and eggs…”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies (Blu-ray)