Written and directed by Kaizô Hayashi, an ageing silent film actress hires a private eye and his wacky but helpful assistant to track down her missing daughter, Bellflower. The two follow a succession of bizarre, obscure clues, until they track down the location of the kidnappers and the daughter. Starring: Shiro Sano, Kojji Otake, Moe Kamura and Fujiko Fukamizu.
It’s rare to dive into a piece of 1980s cinema which has such an independent, enthusiastic energy as this one. The entire film feels like a love letter, not just to silent film but also in its use of noir themes and surrealism. It creates a quintessentially different duo, a serious, committed detective and his boyish, eager assistant. The film follows a typical path of clues but what they find is not typical at all, chasing after a troupe of performers, each appearance more strange than the last. It also has the feel of a detective diving in too deep, losing his grip on reality and spurring into the film’s surreal moments.
The style interestingly feels more reminiscent of modern cinema, it matches a classic visual with a more playful atmosphere. The choice to dive fully into the realm of silent film is one that is likely divisive, while it’s a sincere and genuine homage, it can also make it difficult to hold your attention. The pacing is very evenly done, it has a good progression but misses out on more of an intensity or heightened suspense. It holds a sweet, adventure styled tone but it can come across slightly one noted, needing a bit more variety to the style to even out the silence somewhat.
Shiro Sano and Kojji Otake make a lovely pair, they get across their charming and enthusiastic energies even in silent form. Sano presents the composed and clever Uotsuka, with a strange penchant for boiled eggs but also a handsome, restrained quality. Otake gives us the bubbly, curious and energetic Kobayashi, he’s joyful to watch, as he just feels entirely happy to be there.
To Sleep So as to Dream is the indie classic you didn’t know you needed. It has a humble and dedicated feel, putting out a passionate atmosphere, putting love for film at the forefront. The choice to fully embrace silent cinema may work for some better than others, but it’s a charming adventure which constantly has something to add, while blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Mixing a classic detective story with a homage to decades of cinema.