Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Cast: Sadawo Abe, Takako Matsu, Len Tanaka
Running time: 137 minutes
Synopsis: When their restaurant burns down, married couple Kanya and Satoko are broke. But after Kanya receives a considerable payoff from he woman with whom he has a drunken affair, his wife hatches a plan to make money and rebuild their business: forcing her husband to court vulnerable women and defraud them of their savings…
The opening montage of Nishikawa’s fourth feature film might seem slightly tenuous, but there’s a unifying theme – a man killed on a busy road, an injured athlete, a spilt drink, and unprotected sex – accidents, of course, do happen. And whilst that may be the case, it’s notion that contrasts against actions that are far more purposeful and malicious, albeit ones born out of a mistake. Perhaps the biggest accident of all is that, despite suffering from a number of glaring flaws, DREAMS FOR SALE is, for the most part, a thoroughly enjoyable romp.
Part of the film’s appeal is its strange tone, which sits awkwardly with the dark subject matter – conning the lonely and weak out of their hard earned cash for personal gain. But Nishikawa’s script is full of subtle humour, handled brilliantly by leads Abe and Matsu, and further punctuated by the well-timed direction. Consequently, the characters are wonderfully human (the female weightlifter the husband and wife duo set out to con is an absolute delight), and their moments of humour are offset with those of genuinely affecting sadness – there’s no shortage of adultery, deception, and broken hearts. This unusual balance presents a sense of underlying ambiguity (that may not be to everyone’s tastes), and is carried by a haunting but brilliant score – an acoustic guitar that sounds more like the soundtrack to a melancholic road trip across the American Midwest than a Japanese character study.
The real problem is the film’s running time, which at well over two hours, proves a hard slog in places. Whilst Nishikawa’s script looks to develop its numerous themes – empathy, the nature of human relationships, repentance – it’s chock full of surplus characters and subplots, each drawing out plainly what audiences would surely have discovered for themselves. As the sole vision of writer-director Nishikawa, DREAMS FOR SALE suffers from the ‘Deathly Hallows Syndrome’, and perhaps needed an additional eye cast over it to help objectively strip away some of the excess. Regardless, DREAMS FOR SALE remains a curious piece of work, a film that feels like many different things at once, working on an emotional level if not a structural one.
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