Rotterdam 2023 Review: CONVENIENCE STORY
Miki Satoshi, as a dare by Mark Schilling, throws his viewers into an uncanny episode of the Twilight Zone.
In Convenience Story, we follow screenplay writer Kato, who is suffering from a lack of original ideas. This changes when a mishap with his girlfriend's dog has Kato getting stuck for days in a convenience store somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Run by Nagumo and Keiko, an odd married couple shrouded in mystery, the store provides Kato with inspiration and excitement aplenty. The friendly Nagumo allows Kato to stay until help arrives, but when the young, attractive Keiko takes a liking to Kato, things get dangerous. A good time to leave perhaps? But Kato, finally driven to writing, wants to finish his new screenplay first...
When film critic Mark Schilling moved to Japan, he was struck by the existence of Japan's small convenience stores. Open almost 24/7, and basically selling everything you can think of, these didn't resemble anything he knew in the United States. He challenged Miki Satoshi to make a film about the intrinsic weirdness of these stores and, intrigued, Satoshi complied by making this film (Mark Schilling is even mentioned in the credits as a co-writer). If these stores sell everything you need, could they even have a story for sale for a struggling writer?
As this is a Miki Satoshi film, everything is intrinsically weird already. Kato's girlfriend Zig-Zag is an actress who gets hired for a role in an incredibly weird violent arthouse film. Her dog accidentally deletes Kato's screenplay on his laptop, causing Kato to do something which makes him lose any sympathy the audience might have for him. Convenience store fridges are actually ports to parallel universes. Private investigators are scary, dumb, and carry fire-arms (unthinkable in Japan). The entire film except for several select scenes is yellow-tinged. Is this all happening for real? Is Kato in another dimension, a "convenience store galaxy"?
With its array of peculiar characters, alienating visuals and disconcerting mood, Convenience Story is a bit of a schizophrenic puzzle. It's claustrophobic yet takes place in a seemingly endless field. We need to empathize with Kato, who is admirably played by Narita Ryô as a fall guy running straight into a patch of banana peels, yet he is an asshole. Keiko is attractive (hey, it's Maeda Atsuka in yet another well-played role) but definitely not adorable. And Nagumo (a stoic Rokkaku Seiji) is the friendly sociopath we all fear to meet. Trying to unwrap the exact timeline after seeing the film makes for nice discussions with fellow moviegoers.
Convenience Story may not be for everyone, but I dug its off-kilter atmosphere and visuals. The public in Rotterdam awarded the film an audience score of 3.8 out of 5. Miki Satoshi should be pleased, as that is nowhere near 50-50...
- Satoshi Miki
- Satoshi Miki
- Ryô Narita
- Atsuko Maeda
- Seiji Rokkaku