Great performances and well-rounded characters make for an enjoyable tragi-comic drama from Dear Doctor director Miwa Nishikawa…
When their restaurant is tragically burnt down, married couple Satoko (Takako Matsu, Confessions, K-20: The Legend of the Black Mask, The Hidden Blade) and Kanya (Sadawko Abe, Yatterman, Kamikaze Girls, Uzumaki, After Life) the pair are left with nothing, their dreams of rebuilding their own business literally up in smoke. A chief since leaving school, Kenya finds working for others with lower standards and talents than his own frustrating.
After a drunken one-night stand with a woman he meets on a subway brings a windfall, Satoko’s anger soon turns to a plot to see the couple fulfil their dreams of owning their own restaurant again. She masterminds Kenya into feigning marriage with vulnerable women in order to swindle them out of their savings.
But as Kenya becomes more adept at his role, the couple’s relationship becomes more strained…
Presenting the film at the London Film Festival, writer/director Miwa Nishikawa was happy to talk about the influence of Hirokazu Koreeda, with whom she worked as assistant director on films like Distance and After Life. In particular Nishikawa felt he influenced how she approached stories, and I think, to a certain extent, her worldview too.
There’s a light tone to much of Dreams For Sale, finding a certain strength through comedy in the couple’s situations. But this is hardly broad slapstick or cutesy situations you might find elsewhere – it’s grounded on credible characters that draw you in. Greatly helped by a depth to her characters have – they are real enough to exist outside of the film – and the superb performances from the cast, particularly leads Takako Matsu and Sadawko Abe. The characters here feel well rounded, particularly the women – perhaps rather tellingly as this is coming from a female director – from the weightlifter Hitomi (Yuka Ebara) to the mistress who becomes Kanya original benefactor Reiko (Sawa Suzuki).
Nishikawa discussed at length how the nucleus for the story came from wanting to explore a couple’s relationship, what ‘love’ actually is and why they stay together. Here we see their relationship change as the different elements of it become compartmentalised, especially for Kanya, with other women. The friendship with his wife remains, but becomes plutonic, describing her to friends as ‘no beauty queen’ (say what?). And this becomes even more marked when they pretend to be brother and sister. He shares his romantic, attentive side with the women he deceives, and his lust for hookers, and so on.
Nishikawa often plays with conventions, Satoko is still the dutiful wife, wanting the best for her husband, but the way she goes about it, masterminding his dalliances with other women like a devilish Cyrano de Bergerac, is completely unexpected.
There’s a sly comment on the contradictions in how women look at each other. Satoko gets most envious when Kanya lavishes attention on the weightlifter, and seems to mean it, asking him how he could possibly think of having sex with someone so ugly. When he pursues a single mother with a child, something they have never shared it’s the final straw – though it’s not clear if that’s a decision they have made, the suggestion is that it’s due to the ‘sex’ part of their relationship being non-existent.
Nishikawa composes her film well, pacing it to let the characters develop naturally. Often it relies completely on the cast being able to convey their emotions through their expressions. Here Takako Matsu excels in a role that should cement her as one of the most interesting Japanese actresses around on the back of her appearance in Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions.
One of the most beautiful and significant scenes shows Satoko descending an escalator alone. Although overall the end result is perhaps a little long in the telling.
Even when events take a turn for the worse, Nishikawa shares her master’s ultimately optimistic outlook – to the point where you could argue our protagonists should see more repercussions for their actions. But her intention is not to cast moral judgement on the couple, to invite us into their world and the decisions they make, asking how far would we go to make our own dreams come true?
A thoroughly enjoyable fable for our times…