Dreams for Sale – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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A married couple finds themselves in a dire financial situation after they lose their restaurant in a fire. The couple determined to run a restaurant again turn to crime. The wife scopes out potential targets and her husband commits marriage fraud. Their victims include 31-year-old office lady Satsuki Tanahashi who lives with her parents, lonely office lady Reiko Mutsushima, and single mom Takiko Kinoshita who takes care of her old father and young son by herself.

Director Miwa Nishikawa’s Dreams for Sale is filled with part dark humor and sentimental drama, all residing behind a sense of tragic irony that prevails throughout the film’s narrative. It would be more appropriate to say that the film questions the very ethical foundation that formulates an institution such as marriage, presenting a cautionary tale on the lengths in which that institution is upheld when economical distress finds its way into the lives of damaged individuals, and perhaps more dangerously, that of loving relationships.

Actress Takako Matsu and actor Sadao Abe each play Satoko and Kanya respectively, two individuals who are happily married and operating a successful restaurant together. When disaster befalls upon the restaurant though, Kanya begins to view himself as a complete failure and burden to Satoko, even going as far as to suggesting that Satoko leave him if she wants a better life. Things take a turn for the worse when Kanya unexpectedly runs into a drunken woman by the name of Reiko at a subway station, in which she proclaims she knows him from his old restaurant. He then decides to help her back to her apartment, and in an act of pure lust, has sex with her. This unfortunate event leads to a surprising outcome though—Kanya is given money by Reiko out of her feeling sorry for him losing the restaurant. Kanya then returns to Satoko with the money in hand, with the two of them devising a plan in order to accumulate enough cash to open up a new restaurant. Obviously, things do not go as smoothly as they would have hoped.

What may sound like a film heavily leaning on the possibly of being purely comical, Dreams for Sale plays out more like an examination on the moral decay of a marriage viewed through the exercise of monetary fraud. We see Kanya as essentially a male prostitute for hire, with Satoko working behind the scenes, choosing marks and devising elaborate scenarios. Moments such as Satoko spying on her husband on a commuter train—with Kanya knowing of her presence—in order to approve of his tactics on seducing a girl, to Satoko furiously writing and handing Kanya sheets of paper in order to instruct his phone message to a potential female target, are played for humorous effect, but there also an underlying sense of shamefulness as the two fall deeper into their quest for money. In order to realize their dream of once again returning to their love of the culinary world, we see the slow transformation of both Satoko and Kanya as they begin to devalue those around them and further promote the false relationships that they constructed. In a metaphorical sense, one can view their utter need to acquire a new restaurant as a way to save an already damaged marriage deriving from Kanya’s first one night-stand with Reiko—with both individuals losing sight of why they initially started their fraudulent scheme in the first place.

The film opens showcasing a variety of different, unattached individuals who are interwoven into the narrative of the film at some point, with Satoko and Kanya more or less disrupting their lives through their scheming. Nishikawa imbues these relationships with a strange sense of moral ambiguity that truly repositions us as viewers as to how we interpret the actions of Satoko and Kanya as being “justifiable” given their dire economical circumstances. Is it right to scam unfortunate women out of their money? Of course not, but Nishikawa seems to be attempting to showcase the drastic extent in which one will go in order to keep their relationship afloat. It is certainly an equivocal situation to ponder, but it is also one whose impact is somewhat diminished due to the impracticality of it all. Kanya is certainly not playboy material—both physically and mentally—but he is still somehow able to squirm his way into the lives of vulnerable women with ease in order to take advantage of them. It is not exactly believable for the most part, but Nishikawa’s ability to bring about humor in the most conflicting situations does alleviate some of the rather nonsensical moments found throughout the narrative.

While Kanya’s presence in the film is slowly delegated towards simply being a pawn in Satoko’s attempt to save their relationship, Satako remains the focal point of the film. She is the mastermind behind the whole fraud operation, equally balancing her displays of care for Kanya with her ambitions to scam as many women as she can. The effectiveness of her character is no doubt due in part to the impressive performance by Takako Matsu, an actress who once again shines here. Her role is a devious but understandable one, not from the standpoint of her wanting to continue her stealing of other people’s money, but from her willingness to do whatever she can to hide her genuine feelings surrounding Kayna’s initial affair. As his affairs begin to dramatically increase, and with them gaining even more money, we slowly see her come to grips with her situation. Is she unaffected by her husband’s multiple sexual excursions? Is she simply numb to it? Or does she truly care about the outcome of her marriage? Matsu nicely handles all these emotions within the confinement of Satoko, bringing about the perplexing nature of her character through the subtlest of gestures.

While the practical implications concerning Dreams for Sale’s narrative may raise an eyebrow or two, what we find is a tale that is uniquely centered on the bizarre—and unquestionably perverted—circumstances that surround its characters. The film is centered on exploring the social abnormalities that may occur when loving affection and monetary gain seemingly replace one another in terms of importance, further exploring the twisted relationships that arise. Nishikawa leaves us with an ending that is seemingly appropriate given the desperate situation that both Satoko and Kanya eventually find themselves in, but it also reinforces just how atypical their marriage has truly become over the course of the film, and like the title of the film itself, offers an offbeat journey in which the dreams of others can have a price, but the true question remains—at what cost?

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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