Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2023 2:48 pm 
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Fantasy blends comedy, romance, whimsy, a touch of menace

In Convenience Story, Kato (Ryo Narita) is a cute, scruffy young screenwriter (with a rep of producing scripts for unoriginal 'male fantasy films'). (Note: he does have talent and facility, though he's a bit of a slacker, perhaps.) He lives with Zigzag (Yuki Katayama), an aspiring actress. While she is aceing an audition by reacting quickly to being "killed," Kato goes astray. He goes to great lengths to get their dog Cerberus a special dog food that comes in a jar, called "Weredog." But Cerberus sabotages his laptop, erasing all the text of the screenplay he is working on, which is due very soon. Understandably incensed, Kato tries to drive to a remote location to ditch the dog. But that night he goes back to search for the pet when Zigzag misses him. There he runs out of gas, and meets Keiko (Atsuko Maeda), the beautiful proprietress of a konbini (convenience store), who puts the make on him. By walking into the store, he has entered an alternate reality.

She lives with Nagumo (Seiji Rokkaku), an amiable eccentric, tall, cherubic, perhaps a touch dangerous, who dresses up in evening clothes and goes out into the woods to "conduct" symphonic music played by an "orchestra" of generator-powered loudspeakers, each of which has its own umbrella attached, in case of rain. Impressive to us and also to Kato, who visits, but declines to take the baton. Kato moves in temporarily at the living quarters adjoining the convenience store, whose cheap magazines give him ideas for screenplays. Kato and Keiko make love in his stalled truck, within earshot of Nagumo's electronic forest orchestra. It seems unlikely that Nagumo is unaware of Kato and Keiko's dallying. They escape by taking the nearest bus, which goes to a hot springs and festival - but amid the festivities, Nagumo turns up, in a mask.

Luckily, It's all a dream. And yet while all this excitement is going on, Kato composes a successful screenplay! Convenience Story dabbles perhaps a bit too much in its pretty yellow, green, blue, and red color filters, and seems about to come to a standstill at times. But I found this fantasy amiable and diverting, an agreeable, human-scale example of analogue storytelling that's a relief after the overstuffed multiverses of movies like Everything, Everywhere.

This oddball material was inspired by veteran Japan Times film reviewer Mark Schilling, one of Miike's early champions, who proposed the convenience store theme and gets a co-writer credit as ah homage. According to Rouven Linnarz in Asian Movie Pulse Satoshi Miki, who has compared his work to Monty Python, is a director who's "made quite the impact" on Japanese comedy. He focuses on "odd or troublesome" aspects of the culture, which here seems to have been the ubiquitous twenty-four-hour convenience everything store. To an outsider Convenience Story has plenty of charm, but its "comedy" leans toward the whimsical and the meandering, with a touch of menace.

Convenience Story, コンビニエンス ストーリー, 97 mins., was shown in at least nine festivals, staring with Fantasia, Montreal, Aug. 1, 2022. It was screened for this review as part of the Jul. 26-Aug. 6, 2023 Japan Cuts. Showing at Japan Society, NYC, Aug. 3, 9pm.

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