Director: Nishikawa Miwa
Screenplay: Nishikawa Miwa
Cinematography: Yanagishima Katsumi
Soundscore: more rhythm
Cast: Matsu Takako, Abe Sadao, Tanaka Rena, Kimura Tae, Suzuki Sawa, Ando Tamae, Ebara Yuka
Runtime: 137 min
Seen at the film’s UK premiere at the 56th BFI London International Film Festival.
Yume Uru Futari appeared on quite a number of Top 10 Films of 2012 lists. Tom Mes, Catherine Munroe Hotes and Eija Niskanen all counted it among their favourites in a Midnight Eye feature and Jason Grey (Loaded Films) included it as part of the “10% goodness” of cinema of the past year over at Wildgrounds, to name some examples. Having missed Nishikawa Miwa’s previous film 「ディア・ドクター」 (Dia Dokuta/Dear Doctor, Japan, 2009) at the Japan Touring Film Programme earlier in 2012, I was looking forward to Yume Uru Futari, which had quite an intriguing premise: Kanya (Abe Sadao) and Satoko (Matsu Takako), a married couple, lose their livelihood – a small izakaya (pub) that they run together – in a fire. While Satoko manages to find temporary work in a ramen shop, Kanya does not and aimlessly wanders the street, ending up in the arms of another woman on a night of too many drinks. Other than leaving him with a guilty conscience, Kanya also walks away from the one-night stand with a wad of cash, which eventually saves him from his wife’s wrath. Initially furious about Kanya’s betrayal, Satoko quickly realises that this may be an easy way for them to achieve their dreams (opening a new izakaya) and devises a plan for her husband to charm his way into multiple women’s hearts and money out of their pockets by promising them marriage.
Satako and Kanya are complete opposites of one another, something that becomes ever clearer as the story plays out. Satako, unsurprisingly, wears the trousers in the relationship, masterminding and micromanaging the marriage scam ruthlessly, without the tiniest tinge of guilt. Kanya, meanwhile, is a weakling: guilt-ridden because of his drink-fuelled sexual escapade and intrinsically kind-hearted, deceiving innocent people is something that weighs heavily on his mind. However, as the one that committed the first act of betrayal, he has no choice but to do what Satako asks him to if he wants to save his marriage: he thus plays slave to various lonely and needy women, cheering them on in sporting competitions, chopping vegetables for dinner and even sexually satisfying them. Satoko’s consent, indeed, encouragement, in all this makes for a strange dynamic, hinting that there may more behind the marriage scam than the wish to achieve a dream. Rather, it is a cruel form of punishment that Satoko is unleashing on her husband.
It is this dynamic, this intriguing tension, that drives the film – or would, were it not for the fact that an all-important detail is overlooked: that the person meant to pull off the act of deception is a bit of wimp and, as the scene depicting the aftermath of a drunken night out illustrates, a terrible liar. While we might be convinced that Kanya is capable of deceiving someone over the phone – ruthless Satako is seated right next to him after all, dictating the script of the conversation word for word –, it is much less believable that he manages to trick the women targeted when he is on his own, without the back-up of his fierce wife, in the victims’ kitchens or bedrooms. Kanya may be able to temporarily distract himself by the acts of kindness he performs (his giving nature makes it obvious that he genuinely enjoys helping his victims and deeply sympathises with them about their woes), but his romantic affection is still feigned – and yet he manages to make love to a couple of them as if he were some sort of Don Juan.
Yume Uru Futari’s climax also feels rather contrived as pieces fall into place rather too easily. [Slight spoiler alert] A knife is dropped. A child finds it the next day because somehow it has gone unnoticed (despite its size and all). That much we might still buy, but then things really come to a head as random people show up just at that moment and somehow everyone freaks out, the situation spinning out of control. Things get bloody, lies follow and are never cleared up – it’s an exciting final twist perhaps, but sense it does not make so much. [End spoiler alert]
What Yume Uru Futari does contain is an insightful portrayal of some of the side characters in the story, in particular Minagawa Hitomi (Ebara Yuka), a rather large and butch weight-lifter, who is so very unlike the petite, kawaii women that typically appear in Japanese films and especially doramas and whose pain at society’s prejudice towards herself is acutely tangible. Others have also praised the performances of lead actors Matsu Takako and Abe Sadao (Matsu was nominated for Best Actress at the Japan Academy Awards) as well as the cinematography, but neither particularly stood out to me.
The festival screening included a Q&A with Nishikawa Miwa who had flown in from Japan earlier that day. While it is always a fantastic opportunity to be able to ask the very people that made the film questions directly, not every Q&A session works – and, for me, this one was of them. Rather that offering new insights into the film by sharing details unknown (or even unknowable) to viewers, Nishikawa primarily fell into explanations of what this and that meant in Yume Uru Futari, how certain scenes were supposed to be interpreted, which feelings precisely they were meant to evoke. Yet such things are not for a director to elucidate post-screening, but to communicate through the film itself, while we are in the midst of watching – for if we must be told how a moment in Yume Uru Futari should have made us feel, rather making us feel that way, something has failed.
You may still want to give Yume Uru Futari a try – the general reception of the film has been largely positive. For myself, Nishikawa’s fourth feature-length creation is not so much a terrible or unwatchable film, but a rather mixed bag of things, with characters and motivations I can’t quite comprehend (Why is it that Satako and Kanya stay together?). Yume Uru Futari‘s premise may intrigue, but narrative developments are less than compelling at times.
Overall verdict: Containing an unusual, indeed intriguing story at its core – a man that befriends and seduces them with his charms to scam them out of money, all with the blessing of his wife – Yume Uru Futari has gaps particularly in the portrayal of one of its central characters that make its story not quite compelling.
- Other films of Nishikawa Miwa include the previously mentioned「ディア・ドクター」 (Dia Dokuta/Dear Doctor, Japan, 2009), as well as「ゆれる」(Yurera/Sway, 2006) and「蛇イチゴ」(Hebi Ichigo/Wild Berries, 2003).
- Other reviews: Variety, Japan Times, Isugoi and Twitchfilm (generally with a more positive verdict than mine).