Dreams For Sale (Yume uru futari)
Japan (2012) Dir. Miwa Nishikawa
In fulfilling our dreams, it is a human weakness to be tempted by morally dubious means we would not usually entertain. Can this be justified as self-preservation or exploiting the wilfully weak who are caught out?
Miwa Nishikawa explores this through the duplicitous machinations of husband and wife Kanya (Sadao Abe) and Satoko Ichizawa (Takako Matsu), whose small but popular bar is destroyed in an accidental fire. Keen to start a new restaurant, Satoko finds work in a ramen bar but Kanya is less fortunate and descends into a drink-fuelled depression.
Happenstance provides an unlikely solution to their money woes when Kanya bumps into regular customer Reiko Mutsushima (Sawa Suzuki) also drowning her sorrows, and ends up sleeping with her. Reiko gives Kanya some money for his company, inspiring Satoko to devise a scheme in which Kanya charms single, rich women into marriage then takes off with their savings.
You know it can’t end well so our curiosity lays with how far the Ichizawa’s will take this scheme and what effect it will have on their marriage, if any. Just because the roles have been reversed and it is the man that is the one pulling the tricks, doesn’t automatically mean that jealousy won’t arise in Satoko or that Kanya will develop feelings for one of his ladies.
A plot like this will follow some conventions befitting its premise but Miwa Nishikawa takes delight in giving them a little twist to suit the story she wants to tell. Most people would turn this into a morality tale but Nishikawa doesn’t presume to preach to the audience, leaving us to form our own judgement – after all, it was desperation and, ironically, love that was the main catalyst for this whole affair.
Satoko is understandably angry at her husband’s infidelity and burns the money Reiko gave him but then the idea to pimp Kanya out to raise the money for their new restaurant is born. Making this seem rather improbable is the fact that Kanya is hardly a hunk therefore one wouldn’t expect the ladies to be queuing up, but by the same token, his unremarkable appearance doesn’t give off any warning signs either.
Working part time in small restaurants allows Kanya and Satoko to seek out their victims, beginning with 30-something Satsuki Tanahashi (Rena Tanaka), still living at home and fearing being left on the shelf. Kanya’s line is that he has pay his wife off in order to get a divorce and after a while, charms Satuski’s enough to have her stump up the money.
This works for a number of older women too albeit spinning a different backstory, revealed in an amusing scene in which his victims thus far all arrive at his workplace learning he has quit, and compare their wildly varying notes. When the divorce story isn’t applicable, the alternative is that his ill “sister” Satoko needs the money for a vital operation.
Falling for this one is bullied prostitute Noriyo Oota (Tamae Ando) and weightlifter Hitomi Minagawa (Yuka Ebara), set up by Satoko in the wake of her increasing insecurity. Hitomi may appear like an easy target for bawdy humour, but there is an underlying pathos to this situation, not just because of her atypical physical appearance but the thought of Kanya actually sleeping with Hitomi upsets Satoko the most.
Of all the well-rounded characters presented as the main victims, Nishikawa uses Hitomi wisely to remind us that everyone has a heart and no matter how strong we are on the outside, inside we are all fragile. Similarly, this subverts the idea than confidence tricksters only pick on the glamorous, wealthy and vain, making everyone a potential victim.
By keeping the tone rather light and non-judgemental we find ourselves appalled by the Ichizawa’s actions yet naively hopeful that they’ll stop once they get enough money for their new restaurant. Quite how they successfully manage to con so many women in the same district without being caught is a miracle and perhaps this is a plot point Nishikawa could have used to add further dramatic conflict to the marriage.
The irony is not lost on us that Satoko and Kanya’s home life is the one most at jeopardy with Kanya off out having his fun while Satoko has to amuse herself. Satoko’s gradual change in personality is the most interesting barometer of the moral implications, taking deep joy in seeing the idiot women falling for her husband yet angrier at how much intimate action she is missing out on herself.
A rushed final scam involving single mother Takiko Kinoshita (Tae Kimura) is the conduit for the film’s bleak climax built around this very point. While Kanya maintains his mendacious act in earning Takiko’s trust, his conscience begins to eat away at him as he finds the warmth missing from his marriage with Takiko’s young son and her ailing father.
It is quite a journey the Ichizawa’s go on, and Nishikawa chose well for her two leads. Takako Matsu’s deftly measured performance captures the subtle shifts in Satoko’s personality, making her one of the more sangfroid bunny boilers in cinema. Sadao Abe is the least likely looking gigolo you’ll ever see but his cheery, almost pathetic demeanour pays dividends in the role of Kanya, belying the dramatic clout shown late in the film.
Written from a female perspective, Nishikawa doesn’t show any misandry in her script or in the characterisations of the men, clear positing Satoko as the primary antagonist if you will, or at least she is by the end. Kanya isn’t hardly blameless either but this is about the exploitation of women by a woman using a man, yet can’t be called a feminist parable.
However Dreams For Sale is intelligent, well crafted and thought provoking without resorting to heavy drama or overt moralistic tactics. It lays out its case and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions, asking pertinent questions about our own moral boundaries.