This year I was fortunate enough to be given press credentials for the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival. I will be writing about what I watch here and at the Cultural Gutter in Notes and in a final round-up piece in August.
Kato (Narita Ryo) is a screenwriter. You might not have heard of his movies, but he’s reasonably successful. He’s not writing blockbusters, but he’s not writing no-budget films either. He makes a living, but feels professionally unappreciated. And he’s struggling with writing right now. His girlfriend is the actress Zigzag (Yuki Katayama) and she’s also trying to make it. They share an apartment, but Zigzag feels unappreciated by Kato. It’s hard to say if Kato even likes her. In fact, it looks like this relationship is a product of Kato’s inertia. It’s for Kato easy to stay with Zigzag and have a hot actress girlfriend who helps with the rent and living expenses. I mean I get why he doesn’t like Zigzag, but he stays with her anyway. What I’m saying is that Kato is kind of a schmoe.
Zigzag has a big audition and asks Kato to watch Cerberus, her dog, while she’s out. Kato doesn’t want to because he has his own meeting with the fantastically coiffed producer Kunikada (Eri Fuse) and her assistant producer, who is interested in Kato. By the time he gets home, it’s late. Zigzag isn’t there, Cerberus doesn’t want to eat the cat food he is given, and Kato doesn’t want to go out to get Weredog, the only brand Cerberus will eat. Kato finally relents and goes to get a jar of dog food from a nearby convenience store, and so begins Kato’s journey into convenience store purgatory and the discovery of another convenience store in rural fields outside Tokyo. At that Lisow Mart, he meets Keiko (Atsuko Maeda), a cashier who works at the store with her husband, Nagumo (Seiji Rokkaku). Stranded, Kato takes Nagumo and Keiko up on their offer to stay with them until they find his rental. Keiko becomes interested in Kato and Kato at least doesn’t tell her no. But he doesn’t quite say yes either when she asks him to take her away with him.
Convenience stores, especially at night, are liminal spaces. They feel timeless, eternal, and between worlds. Convenience Story captures and builds on that feeling. Co-written by the film’s director Satoshi Miki and Japan Times‘ film critic Mark Schilling, Convenience Story is comedic, but it also has some of the feel of Southern Gothic and neo-noir stories. Convenience Story is also a gorgeous film. Haruyuki Takada’s cinematography and the film’s thoughtful, color-saturated lighting are fantastic and I loved looking at it. The costuming and hair–and all the set dressing details–were delightful. All the performances were good, though I wish there had been reason for even more Eri Fuse. And Narita Ryo played a frustratingly believable schmoe. Convenience Story is a good movie and a well-crafted one. At the same time, I wish certain of the symbolic Easter eggs hadn’t been included. The flm did not need the added references, symbols or even a certain narrative twist at the end. Why add more when there is already enough with Convenience Story’s unique, original material?
I received a review copy of Convenience Story. Carol Borden is an editor at and evil overlord of The Cultural Gutter, a website dedicated to thoughtful writing about disreputable art. She was a writer for and editor of the Toronto International Film Festival’s official Midnight Madness andVanguard program blogs. She has written for Biff Bam Pop, Soldier of Cinema, Mezzanotte, Teleport City, Die Danger Die Die Kill, and Popshifter. She’s appeared on CBC radio, The Projection Booth podcast, The Feminine Critique podcast, and the Infernal Brains podcast. She’s written a bunch of short stories including Godzilla detective fiction, femme fatale mermaids, an adventurous translator/poet, and an x-ray tech having a bad day.You can find them here.