‘To Sleep So As To Dream’ Arrow Video Blu-Ray Review – A Dreamy, Quirky Love-Letter To Japanese Cinema

Two private detectives hunt for an actress trapped within the reel of a silent ninja film in the dreamlike debut of Kaizo Hayashi (Circus Boys, Zipang), a magical double-handed cinephilic homage to the movie worlds of the 1910s and 1950s. When private eye Uotsuka (Shiro Sano, Violent Cop, Shin Godzilla) and his sidekick Kobayashi are approached by an aged former actress, Madame Cherryblossom, to go in search of her kidnapped daughter Bellflower, their investigations lead them to the studios of the mysterious M. Pathe company. Here Uotsuka has a strange vision in which he comes face to face with the beautiful star of a 1915 chanbara film that appears to have no ending. From then on, things begin to get a little strange… Among the most impressive and critically regarded Japanese films of the 1980s, To Sleep so as To Dream finally makes its home-video debut outside of Japan in a brand new restoration supervised by the director himself. Drifting between illusion and allusion, it is chockfull of references to Japan’s rich cinematic heritage and features cameos from a host of veteran talent and baroque sets created by Takeo Kimura, the Nikkatsu art designer fondly remembered for his flamboyant work with Seijun Suzuki in the 1960s.

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Video Quality

To Sleep So As To Dream comes to Blu-Ray courtesy of Arrow Video in the original 1.37:1 sourced from a 2K restoration of the original 16mm Kodak black-and-white camera negatives supervised by director Kaizo Hayashi and cinematographer Yuichi Nagata. While the film has an intentional quality variation between the “modern” times and the older silent film footage, each source is given the highest quality treatment that you could want. The beautiful black-and-white photography shines in high definition with natural grain intact and resolved well so that nothing ever appears clumpy. The contrast is well defined, and there is almost nothing in the way of print damage on display here. There is an incredible amount of detail present with nice texture on the costumes and in the production design. Black levels are appropriately deep with no distracting trace of black crush or compression artifacts. Arrow Video has done an amazing job rescuing this forgotten gem. 

Audio Quality

This Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mono track in the original Japanese (with optional English subtitles). Due to the nature of this picture, there is actually very little dialogue or even music and sound effects emanating from the feature. The film employs some sound effects that are given the appropriate placement within the mix. The score comes through nicely in relation to the competing sounds when it does enter into play. This is not a particularly dynamic presentation, but it presents everything accurately with pleasing fidelity and without damage or other unwanted issues. 

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary #1: Director Kaizo Hayashi and lead actor Shiro Sano deliver a great commentary track recorded in 2000 in which they recall their experiences from production including the different styles the implemented, the influences of Akira Kurosawa and various other source materials, the DIY nature of certain aspects, how they captured the silent film aesthetic, how they became friends with one another, the initial reception to the film, and much more. This adds more of a personal touch that feels really valuable as a fan of cinema. 
  • Audio Commentary #2: Japanese film experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp provide a more historically minded commentary track in which they discuss the initial release of the film, how it fits into Japanese cinema, the allusions to silent cinema and detective stories, the careers of the creatives involved, the aesthetic of the film, it’s place in history and more. This is a good companion to the first track as each one offers a different perspective on the material. 
  • How Many Eggs? Actor Shiro Sano Talks: A new 29-minute interview with the film’s lead actor in which he discusses meeting director Kaizo Hayashi, what impressed him about the screenplay, how the economy of Japan at the time impacted production, his fondness for his character and the similarities he shared with him, his early theater training, all the hard boiled eggs he ate, the challenges of the film, how he feels about the film now and more. 
  • Talking Silents – Benshi Midori Sawato Talks: A new 18-minute interview with the benshi expert in which she discusses early Japanese film culture, the art of the benshi silent film commentator, how audiences were conditioned for these art forms, preserving Japan’s national film heritage, the differences in foreign and domestic films, women in the benshi community and more. 
  • Midori Sawato Performs “The Eternal Mystery”: A seven-minute narration of the final reel of The Eternal Mystery by Benshi Midori Sawato. 
  • The Restoration of To Sleep So As To Dream: A four-minute piece in which director Kaizo Hayashi visits the studio to supervise the transfer and restoration of his film in 2018 from the 16mm negative. Not only do you get a glimpse behind the scenes at how we get such amazing preservation efforts, but you get to see a director reuniting with his film in a real way after many years. 
  • Fragments From Japan’s Lost Silent HeydayA three-minute look at selections of scenes from silent jidai-geki films from the archives of the Kyoto Toy Museum. This is a fun snapshot of Japanese film history. 
  • Trailers: This disc provides the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:38) and the English-Language Restored Re-release Trailer (2:38)
  • Image Galleries: A series of notable images from each film are presented here including promotional stills and posters. 
  • Booklet: A lovely multi-page booklet is included in the first pressing of this release which includes a director’s statement from Kaizo Hayashi and the essay “To Film So As To Sleep” by Japanese film expert Aaron Gerow. 


Final Thoughts

To Sleep So As To Dream is a touching and enveloping love letter to the artistry of silent cinema through a modern lens. Director Kaizo Hayashi constructs a fantasy that you never really want to leave with all of its oddball charms. While martial arts and kaiju films are a rich part of the Japanese cinematic experience, it is really fulfilling to be immersed in this type of unique narrative from a country with countless stories waiting to be discovered by an international audience. Arrow Video has delivered a Blu-Ray with a terrific A/V presentation and some substantial supplements. This is not the most flashy release of the year, but it is one you should put high on your list if you are a fan of classic cinema. Recommended 

To Sleep So As To Dream is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.