夢売るふたり 「Yume Uru Futari」
Release Date: September 08th, 2012
Running Time: 137 mins.
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Writer: Miwa Nishikawa (Screenplay/Original Novel)
Starring: Takako Matsu, Sadao Abe, Lena Tanaka, Sawa Suzuki, Tamae Ando, Yuka Ebara, Tsurube Shoufukutei, Tae Kimrua, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yusuke Iseya, Kanji Furutachi,
“Dreams for Sale” is the award-winning fourth feature film from Miwa Nishikawa and it was released in 2012 after having travelled around international film festivals such as the London Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival. It follows on from her previous film by being a tale of a family riven by deceit and compromised morals but it is far darker than “Wild Berries” and “Dear Doctor”, this feels more akin to “Sway”, tougher.
“Dreams for Sale” begins as most Nishikawa films do with a simple set-up of a family unit before tearing it apart. The film is driven by the relationship between a man named Kanya (Sadao Abe) and his beautiful wife Satoko Ichizawa (Takako Matsu). They are happily married and running and a successful Izakaya. They seem to be that sort of loving couple who could grow old together with their small Izakaya being the focal point of a neighbourhood. Their celebrations for the fifth anniversary of their restaurant start well but end with the place burning down and their customers injured.
This disaster torches their finances and jobs and it brings out their true colours. Satoko soldiers on, the tougher of the two, and takes on a job at a noodle shop. Kanya, a fully qualified sushi chef, takes the loss far worse and gets depressed, angry at his wife, and does what most Japanese men do when in such a situation in films: drink and gamble the night away at pachinko parlours. Taking on the role of the strong wife the ever-loyal Satoko rebuffs the advances of other men as she alternates between searching and waiting for Kanya as he spends longer away from her.
One morning he storms home with tears of joy and an envelope full of cash he claims he got from a friend. Satoko isn’t buying it. Kanya makes the fatal mistake of hugging Satoko to get her to stop thinking and she smells the scent of another woman. She gets him to confess it was money earned from comforting a lonely and angry woman who was left by her lover. Kanya provided her with a one-night stand and a face to punch. Satoko is furious. Scarily so. In one of the best emotional switches in film history Takako Matsu breaks our initial impressions of her character Satoko and displays the cold kind of fury where a person will knowingly hurt someone and make them suffer and it is understandable – her loyalty has been betrayed. She is utterly terrifying. After some mild torture involving hot water poured into Kanya’s bath, she realises the full potential of the money and an even scarier and more calculating side emerges as she realises this is a chance to get money together to re-open their restaurant…
This is where the film makes a sharp turn, heading into a shadowy valley of a psychodramedy.
Satoko wonders if they can make more money through a scam involving Kanya picking up lonely ladies and soothing their heartache with a promise of marriage? There is potential and so the two embark on a series of sham relationships.
Satoko and Kanya find work in an upscale restaurant and she picks on the most emotionally vulnerable customers in their new workplace for him to charm. Some viewers will be bemused at the sight of the thoroughly average-looking Sadao Abe charming a whole restaurants worth of women but it happens and it all develops organically.
Kanya meets women at the restaurant who are nursing heartache or grievances and offers the right amount of comfort, a kind word, a thoughtful gesture or just attention. Those little moments of human kindness add up for the women who fall for Kanya. They go on dates and sex is usually involved and he scores money after telling them of his dream of building a new restaurant. Then he leaves.
Surely it won’t go that smoothly?
As it turns out, it doesn’t and it’s because of the delicious push and pull tension between vengeance and love that Satoko and Kanya feel. Kanya takes to going out with many women and Satoko organises things with ruthless efficiency (she even writes scripts for Kanya to read over the phone!). They tell each other it is for their dream of a new restaurant but the film shows another, more human side to their characters – Kanya is following his wife’s orders out of guilt and Satoko is punishing him out of anger and they remain together because they still love each other despite which fuels a growing hatred.
Kanya becomes a pathetic character as he plays along with these lies and the guilt he feels towards the women over his deception complicates things even further, driving a delicious dramatic wedge between himself and Satoko. I can imagine that most viewers will be chilled to the bone by Takako Matsu’s switch earlier in the film as her warm understanding smile drops and a frigid mask of anger and retribution emerges but those chills will turn into revulsion as she scouts increasingly vulnerable women to fleece.
Initially there’s a level of sympathy for the couple that is high enough for the film to make light of the situation but the film always runs the risk of audiences starting to hate the central couple for being so duplicitous and thus alienating people, making them want to stop watching. It is a testament to the skill of Nishikawa that this never quite happens and her writing can invoke some sympathy for Satoko and Kanya as we remain invested in their twisted relationship and understand their motivations, strengths and weaknesses.
Much more admirably the women Satoko marks as victims of the scam are humanised and given lives of their own. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, fears and desires, and all have jobs such as writers and call girls. Audiences will definitely empathise with them rather than pity, laugh at or forget. These women add rocks for Kanya and Satoko’s floundering relationship to gradually break up on but they are people themselves and not just plot points or narrative boosts. The best example of this is Yuka Ebara’s character Hitomi, an overweight high school teacher training for the Olympics. Her character was sensitively handled, and her experiences shown, she was not forgotten about or reduced to the butt of a joke. When she reveals her inner-most angst over her looks we see years of body shaming emanate but there’s also a wonderful strength and good-nature which she shows through her training, something which Kanya respects even as he and Satoko use her. This respect proves to be a wedge between the couple, one amongst many.
Takako Matsu and Sadao Abe are strong in the lead roles (especially Takako Matsu who is amazing) but sometimes their characters are a little too opaque drawn from a Japanese trait of being fuzzy on issues rather than being open and engaging in conflict plus some in the audience may have a hard time seeing why a guy as average-looking as Sadao Abe is able to woo the hearts of women and get them to sign over substantial sums of cash. These are minor complaints because the drama of the relationship holds a viewer’s attention even after a second viewing. Crisply filmed and well-acted, this proves to be another great film from Miwa Nishikawa.
The principal cast are led by Takako Matsu (9 Souls, Confessions, April Story) and Sadao Abe (Paikaji Nankai Sakusen, After Life). They are supported by Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo Sonata, Key of Life, Sway), Sawa Suzuki (Loft), Tae Kimura (My House, Kaidan, Starfish Hotel, Infection, Zero Focus), and Tamae Ando (Noriko’s Dinner Table, Phone Call to the Bar).