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Year: 1986
Country:
Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Hayashi Kaizo
Screenplay: Hayashi Kaizo
Cinematography: Nagata Yuichi
Cast: Sano Shiro, Kamura Moe, Fukamizu Fujiko, Otake Koji
Runtime: 80 min
Trailer: on YouTube

Seen at the third Zipangu Fest at the Cinema Museum in London.

Long before Hazanavicius’s L’artiste (The Artist, France, 2011) came Hayashi Kaizo’s 「夢みるように眠りたい」 (Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai/To Sleep So As to Dream), which was made in 1986 as a homage to the era of silent film in Japanese cinema. Although some VHS copies of Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai were apparently floating around for a while, it is nowadays one of those creations that has been forgotten – a real loss, because between the two, Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai is, in my (very biased) opinion, the better film – featuring a story that’s more original and a style that takes more risks.

The plot seems deceptively simple: Uozuka (Sano Shiro), a private detective, and his assistant Kobayashi (Otake Koji) receive a phone call from an elderly lady, Madame Sakura (Fukamizu Fujiko), and her assistant, about the kidnapping of a young woman by the name of Bellflower (Kamura Moe). To find and save her, the investigators are given several clues to puzzle out, yet when they arrive where the woman is meant to be, the kidnappers have already disappeared and left yet another riddle behind, leading the two men on an increasingly mysterious trail that seems to lead somewhere and nowhere all at the same time. As they decode the signs, the line between what is real and what imaginary becomes less and less clear, the film entering the sort of dreamlike territory that invokes the stories of Pessoa (O marinheiro/The Mariner, Portugal, 1913), Borges (Las ruinas circulares/The Circular Ruins, Argentina, 1941), and Robbe-Grillet (Dans le labyrinthe/In the Labyrinth, France, 1956).

Dream or real? Uozoka and the elusive Bellflower.

Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai is one of those works that came to be purely for the love of film and belief in the medium. Hayashi Kaizo, the film’s director, had dropped out of Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University (where he had studied economics for two years), and turned to theatre instead, joining the Tenjosaijiki theatre group of Terayama Shuji, a seminal figure in Japan’s avant-garde. When Terayama died and the group consequently disbanded, Hayashi turned to filmmaking. Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai was his rather impressive debut: though he had no experience in the world of film, he wrote the script, got a small budget, cast and crew together, and somehow created this gem of a homage to the era of silent cinema in Japan. The film is, in fact, not entirely silent itself, but rather it is ‘sounded’ – and cleverly so: the telephone rings, the sweet melody of a lullaby reverberates across the screen,1 the reel of a film lightly rattles – it’s all accompanying sounds of this sort. Direct verbal utterances, meanwhile, are absent: any essential dialogue or narration is provided through the means of intertitles (a characteristic feature of silent films) and words are only actually spoken aloud as part filmic material within the film (i.e. in the form of a benshi, or live-narrator for Japanese silent films, who appears in a particular scene within Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai in which a film is being shown).

The recurring scenes of a film-within-a-film introduce metatexuality into Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai that operates on multiple levels, the exact boundaries between the film we are watching and the film we are watching within the film we are watching becoming increasingly – and fascinatingly so – fuzzy. As a narrative device the use of metatexuality signals the film’s awareness of and commentary on its own medium – not surprising, given that Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai is a tribute to silent cinema – but is also a playful tool for mystery. Indeed, the filmmakers of Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai are very much at play, inserting little jokes into the story (one detective’s quirky addiction to boiled eggs, another’s eye-bulging fixation on money) or offering up other forms of entertainment: paper dolls, old-style fairgrounds with merry-go-rounds, tricksters and magicians of sorts, all of which transport us to wondrous places and times long ago. Some of these likely make specific references to the storytelling and silent film traditions of old in Japan, though I’m afraid I can’t provide much insight here. What I do know, however, is that Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai is not Hayashi’s only work to the evoke the past of cinema, his Hama Maiku Private Eye trilogy「私立探偵 濱マイク」シリーズ/Shiritsu tantei hama maiku shirīzu) – consisting of 「我が人生最悪の時」 (Waga jinsei saiaku no toki/The Most Terrible Time in My Life, 1994), 「遥かな時代の階段を」 (Harukana jidai no kaidan o/Stairway to the Distant Past, 1995) and 「罠 THE TRAP」 (Wana/The Trap, 1996) -, recalling Japanese gangster movies, French New Wave cinema as well as American film noir.

Tower to unknown mysteries.

Shot in black and white, Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai also offers magnificent camera angles and gorgeous shots throughout, for example when the two detectives climb up a geometric network of stepladders inside a tower – see image above. Few stills can be found online, and if, they tend to be rather blurry, but be assured Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai is as much a delight for the eyes as it is for the soul and mind.

In the end, I can only repeat what my friend E, whom I went to see this film with, and I both scribbled on the post-screening questionnaire: Please show again soon! And though watching Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai on real, physical film in an atmospheric location like London’s Cinema Museum is half the charm, I will add: please someone release this on DVD so that more cinephiles can enjoy this gem, regardless of where in the UK, or rather, the world they are.

Overall Verdict: Long forgotten, Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai is a film that should be remembered, screened and watched (and rescreened and rewatched some more): it’s dreamy delight for any cinephile.

Rating: 9/10 (If I had better knowledge of the era of silent film in Japan, I’m sure I would score it even higher – for now I just know that there are some wonderful references I’m missing out on.)

Footnote

I’m assuming it’s a lullaby based on the “Oyasumi” (meaning “Good night”) in the untranslated song lyrics.

Bonus Bits

  • I’m truly hoping this will rescreen in London some time sooner rather than later. There is much to analyse here, but I don’t quite yet feel confident without having seen Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai at least for a second time. The title – and certain aspects within the film – for example raise a thematic question in terms of sleep, dream and death.
  • Website for a screening that took place back in 2007 in Seattle. Provides some interesting information about the film and its director.
  • A very enlightening review of the film from someone who saw it at a film festival in Seattle way back. You might prefer to read this review after you’ve seen the film as it provides many more details about the plot. These are insightful, but the first time round I would recommend you lose yourself in this story with as little advance knowledge as possible. Just let yourself be transported into a surreal world.
  • Clips from other Hayashi films.
  • An article on Hayashi’s Hama Maiku trilogy, for which is he is probably best known internationally.
  • Hama Maiku trilogy at amazon.co.uk (US-Import Region 1 DVDs only). If you are based in North America, order directly from amazon.com.
  • Link to the website of the Zipangu Fest. I will be reviewing two more films from the festival.
  • Again, another link to London’s Cinema Museum.

Image Gallery

As I have already noted few screenshots are to be found on the internet and most are, unfortunately, of a not particularly good quality. Still, just so you can get some sense of a visual impression of the Yume Miruyoni Nemuritai: