Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Japan Cuts ’23: Convenience Story

Convenience stores (konbini) are important in Japan. They are places to buy cup-noodles and iced coffee in a can (so good). Kato is about to walk into one that might look modest, but it is actually quite mysterious. The cooler door ushers him through to a Lynchian world in Satoshi Miki’s Convenience Story, which screens tomorrow as part of this year’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

Kato’s screenwriting career is on the skids, because his bro comedies are out of step with woke producers. Ironically, his resentful live-in girlfriend Zigzag’s career might be on the verge of taking off, while he falters. After ill-advisedly blowing off steam (by abandoning her dog in the middle of nowhere), Kato finds himself broken-down outside an empty konbini. Frankly, he doesn’t even realize it when he gets pulled through the cooler door-portal, but he certainly notices Keiko on the other side.

In this world, she manages the convenience store with her schlubby husband Nagumo. Since he is stranded, they hospitably offer to put him up. They are almost suspiciously welcoming. However, a David Lynch-worthy
Postman Always Rings Twice-esque melodrama develops, when Nagumo leaves Kato and Keiko alone for hours, while he practices his air-conducting in the forest.

Convenience Story
is not entirely successful, but it is more watchable than overly self-serious Lynchian secret world movies like Silent River or Chariot, because Miki maintains a brisker tempo. Viewers never share the feeling they are also stuck in an isolated konbini. Miki’s adaptation of the novella written by Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling also retains an ironic sense of humor.

Ryo Narita is ultra-deadpan as Kato, but that works in the context of the film. Atsuko Maeda is sort of a dark fantasy variant on the “manic pixie dream girl,” but with more restraint, which again works for the film. Yuki Katayama plays Zigzag as a complete mess, but also with more than a hint of danger, which perfectly suits her.

Convenience Story
is a strange detour, but somehow it still ends up exactly where you would expect. Throughout it all, Miki displays a light touch, which is very much appreciated. It is better than hordes of Lynch clones, but it still shares some of their drawbacks. Recommended for fans of the self-consciously weird, Convenience Story screens tomorrow (8/3) as part of Japan Cuts ’23.