A montage of aspiration – the opening image in Dreams for Sale – ends with a restaurant aflame, representing the ruined lives of young married couple Kanya and Satoko. In subsequent scenes, we observe how the pair are opposite poles in terms of world-view; Satoko remains optimistic, taking a job to try and make the best of it, while Kanya settles into a depressive lull, feeling unworthy of his wife and lying to friends about the state of the business.
Everything changes when Kanya drunkenly has a one-night stand with a similarly downtrodden woman he meets on the subway, and overwhelmed with emotion and sympathy, she ends up giving him some of her newly-acquired cash. Satoko soon enough finds out, and in an ironic twist, encourages him to repeat his behaviour, in order that he might be able to scam money from other desperate women. A concept this ludicrous likely would not work had director Miwa Nishikawa opted for the serious approach; through and through, this is pure farce, shot with stately precision and performed with a quiet power. Absolutely dripping in irony, if not for Kanya’s completely average physical appearance, then for the rabble of women who appear to love the soap opera of his and their life, Nishikawa has crafted a charming, if slightly over-long caper that baffles and delights in mostly equal measure.
Satoko, an unexpected and unconventional femme fatale of sorts, frequently surprises and amuses, writing the scripts for her husband’s faux-tearful phone calls, and even helping him select the women he “cases”, leveraging her unfortunate position into something evoking grand power and feminine strength. That it eventually turns a little ugly requires deft tonal craftsmanship, but Nishikawa is more than up to the task, bearing the moral fruits of their transgressive actions in a manner both amusing and dramatically engaging.
The sheer number of lives that Kanya interacts with does ultimately end up giving the film something of an overstuffed feel, and had several of these been chopped, it would feel far tighter without affecting the central premise at all. When Nishikawa has so many threads to weave in the final reel, we don’t need more superfluous characters being introduced. Still, Dreams for Sale ends on a few more notes of amusing irony, but also sweetness. Miwa Nishikawa’s darkly funny if unjustifiably over-long farce is well worth the slog.
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