While watching Ryutaro Ninomiya’s “Dreaming in Between,” I was reminded of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Both Ninomiya’s protagonist, Shuhei Suenaga, and Miller’s Willy Loman are facing the ends of their careers and lives while wondering, given all their disappointed dreams, if it’s all been worth it. And both are both powerful archetypes and complex individuals who invite contempt and sympathy in various measures.
Scripted by Ninomiya, “Dreaming in Between” differs from Miller’s classic play in one important way: After learning of his impending demise, Shuhei (Ken Mitsuishi), the vice principal of a high school in Kyushu, tries to be friendly and considerate to everyone he meets, but hardly anyone believes in his seemingly sudden personality overhaul.
The film does not play this situation for laughs: Shuhei’s life has gone seriously off course, for reasons more implied than explained. The reactions to his new Mr. Nice Guy act range from the incredulity of his adult daughter (Haruka Kudo), who asks him if he’s dying, to the shock of his wife (Maki Sakai), who recoils from his touch after years without intimacy. (She has been carrying on an affair of which Shuhei is aware.)