Life begins at the Konbini

The film adaptation of Akasaka Mari’s novel Vibrator begins and ends under the harsh glare of late-night florescent lights at a convenience store.  I feel the convenience store (Konbini in Japanese) is an important marker of life in post-bubble Japan.  The stores are liminal spaces that act as a nexus for the instability of work and social life in Heisei Japan; the persons working at the store and the people producing most of the products available for sale work in a service industry that (for the most part) provides none of the traditional safety of lifetime employment in Japan.  The prepackaged food that the customers shop for also implies instability, either in the sense that the consumers are too busy to prepare and eat meals, or that they have no real place to eat; the latter is seen in the meal that Rei and Okabe share in the cab of his truck. The wrappers scattered around the space set the stage for Rei and Okabe unwrapping – or declothing – each other.  Not to belabor the metaphor of a disposable society, but the rate at which Okabe seems to shed jobs (or they shed him) and the drifting of Rei into the truck and out of her normal existence (of which the only evidence we see – other than in flashbacks – is the convenience store) seems of a theme with the ephemerality of the fashion magazines and cheap foods stocking the opening shots (one could also make the argument the processed foods and the wrappers that contain them are in no way ephemeral but contribute to a dystopian society of permanent trash, both in our digestive systems and on our streets, but I feel the movie is not engaging this aesthetic but rather one of easy disposability).

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It is notable that one of the final scenes in Vibrator takes place in a Shokudō (often translated as cafeteria, but here more of a small restaurant catering to travelers and truckers).  A restaurant on a highway would also definitely be marked as a liminal space, as it exists for travelers to come and go.  However I think this space, although liminal, symbolizes a type of stability that stands in opposition to the life marked by the convenience store.  The society that passes through the Shokudō is one in transit – on a continuum to and from certain fixed points, while the one passing through the convenience store is unrooted – in a state of constant flux. Rei and Okabe come to a measure of truth over their meal in the Shokudō, while the finale returns them to the front of the convenience store.  The shot composition is interesting here as Rei is stationary but there is movement all around her as the lights of the city flicker and car/truck headlights move in different directions. The final shot of Rei back in the convenience store holds static as she waits for her wine to be rung up, aligning her with the products in the store until the screen fades to black.

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Back in front of the Konbini as the city moves past

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