You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dreams for Sale

Nipponese helmer-scribe Miwa Nishikawa continues to explore themes of deceit with her fourth film, "Dreams for Sale," a provocative portrait of a husband and wife who scam women desperate for love.

With: Takako Matsu, Sadawo Abe, Lena Tanaka, Sawa Suzuki, Yuka Ebara, Tae Kimura, Yusuke Iseya, Tsurube Shofukutei, Teruyuki Kagawa. By Maggie Lee

Nipponese helmer-scribe Miwa Nishikawa continues to explore themes of deceit with her fourth film, “Dreams for Sale,” a provocative portrait of a husband and wife who scam women desperate for love. Lacking the tightly wound suspense of her her 2006 picture “Sway” or the droll moral ambivalence of 2009’s “Dear Doctor,” this circuitous yarn is precariously held together by coolly disturbing character studies and a nuanced rendition of female calculation by Takako Matsu (“Confessions”). Straining to be a dramedy yet steeped in cynicism and pathos, pic reps a bitter pill for mainstream auds but suits arthouse, ancillary and fest play.

In Miyamae, a commuter district near Tokyo, Kanya Ichizawa (Sadawo Abe) and wife Satoko (Takako Matsu) celebrate the fifth anniversary of their restaurant, only to see it burn to ashes. Satomi keeps her chin up while slaving away at a grungy ramen shop, while Kanya falls into a funk. Kanya lucks out when a one-night stand with regular customer Reiko (Sawa Suzuki) results in a windfall; soon the couple is fleecing women susceptible to Kanya’s puppy-dog charm. Their first victim is prim Satsuki (Lena Tanaka), cracking under family pressure to marry.

Up to this point, the drama is entirely absorbing as it focuses intently on its protags’ misfortunes. Nevertheless, with each target, from painfully diffident Olympic weightlifter Hitomi (Yuka Ebara) to cash-strapped prostitute Kana (Tamae Ando) to gentle divorcee Takiko (Tae Kimura), Kanya and Satoko’s unscrupulous behavior becomes more alarming and grueling to watch.

One senses Nishikawa’s scorn for the scammers, but not always her sympathy for the scammed. The anecdotal structure doesn’t quicken the film’s momentum, and the respectable supporting thesps, plus star cameos, make interesting but not lasting impressions. Nevertheless, the helmer’s clinical anatomy of a crumbling marriage is refreshing in its sexual openness.

Satoko’s characterization is a masterful mockery of Japanese female stoicism taken to extremes; although her controlling nature seems well-intentioned initially, she gradually discloses underlying selfishness and schadenfreude. Matsu, whose career as a national sweetheart rivals that of Sayori Yoshinaga in the ’60s, goes even further than she did in “Confessions” to subvert her image of idealized femininity, flaring up like a vicious animal before just as quickly regaining her silky composure.

From the decisive opening scene in which his distraction and clumsiness cause the restaurant fire, Kanya’s unlikely and reluctant Don Juan, played unflatteringly with a surfeit of weak will and pigheadedness by Abe, may have trouble convincing Western auds and, indeed, most male viewers. But the character’s inadequacies only reinforce how vulnerable women can be whenever anyone dangles the illusion of love, as conveyed by the Japanese title, which translates as “Dream-vending Duo.”

Tech credits are pro. Keiko Mitsumatsu’s production design re-creates the culture of Tokyo’s izakaya (equivalent to bistros), evoking an atmosphere conducive to suggestive interactions between lovelorn strangers. A light, jazzy score softens the satirical venom.

Dreams for Sale


Production: An Asmik Ace Entertainment release of a Bandai Visual Co. Office Shirous, Yomiuri Telecasting, Asmik Ace Entertainment, Bungeishunju, Dentsu, Eisei Gekijo Co., Papado, Yahoo Japan, Ennet presentation of a Office Shirous production. (International sales: Asmik Ace Entertainment, Tokyo.) Produced by Shiro Sasaki. Executive producers, Hiroko Matsuda, Kosuke Oshida, Hiroyuki Fujikado, Asako Nishikawa, Kayo Yoshida. Directed, written by Miwa Nishikawa, based on her story.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Katsumi Yanagijima; editor, Ryuji Miyajima; music, More Rhythm; production designer, Keiko Mitsumatsu; costume designer, Miwako Kobayashi; sound (Dolby SR), Mitsugu Shiratori; visual effects supervisor, Kentaro Nishio; line producer, Kosuke Oshide; assistant director, Shinji Kuma. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2012. (Also in Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 136 MIN.

Cast: With: Takako Matsu, Sadawo Abe, Lena Tanaka, Sawa Suzuki, Yuka Ebara, Tae Kimura, Yusuke Iseya, Tsurube Shofukutei, Teruyuki Kagawa. By Maggie Lee

More Scene

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

  • Awkwafina, Lulu Wang Celebrate New York

    Awkwafina Wants 'The Farewell' to Break Boundaries of Cultural Differences

    Family dysfunction is universal despite cultural differences. That’s what writer and director Lulu Wang wants audiences to take away from her film “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. “This movie will teach us universality out of specificity. There’s something that we can all kind of relate to across cultures. There’s something we still have to learn about [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki Talks About Being Supported by Other Women in Hollywood

    Elizabeth Debicki is looking to the future — which makes sense, since she was named Women in Film and Max Mara’s “Face of the Future” for 2019. “No pressure,” Debicki laughed when Variety asked the actress about the honor on the red carpet. “It means a great deal. I have always deeply respected the work [...]

  • Carla Gugino Jett

    How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax's Crime Drama 'Jett'

    “This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.” In the new series, Gugino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content