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Stefan Ulstein

Japan As Corrupt Supermarket

Juzo Itami is perhaps the best-known contemporary Japanese director on this side of the pond. His bawdy "Japanese Noodle Western," Tampopo (1986), a commercial and critical hit, was immediately followed by A Taxing Woman (l987) and A Taxing Woman's Return (l988), both of which dealt with a polite, endearing, and maddeningly persistent tax investigator who roots out corruption and mob collusion in high places. Like these earlier works, Itami's latest offering, Supermarket Woman, is a high-octane, speedball comedy brimming with social satire. And its feet are firmly planted on the ground of everyday Japanese life.

Hanako is a recently widowed homemaker who loves a well-run supermarket. She delights in a crisply displayed array of produce, a neatly packaged cut of meat, a glistening exhibition of freshly caught fish. When the glitzy Bargains Galore superstore opens, she joyfully runs down to check out the deals. There she meets Goro, of the moribund Honest Goro's supermarket, a down-at-the-heels establishment poised on the brink of ruin. Having sneaked over to check out the competition, Goro is stunned into defeatist despair. But Hanako points out some shady practices--meat doctoring, bait-and-switch scams, and unbelievable bargains for "the first thousand customers" that run out minutes after the initial half-dozen shoppers storm the aisles. "You can beat them," she exhorts Goro, "by providing great products at good prices. Supermarket success is not about gimmicks and glamour, but good old-fashioned bargains." Goro rallies, and the pair set off to make Honest Goro's the best supermarket in all Japan.

What follows is a hilariously entertaining comedy. Nobuko Myamoto, who gained fame as the Taxing Woman of Itami's earlier films, is a screen tsunami as the shopping expert, Hanako. At the Seattle International Film Festival, where Supermarket Woman had its North American premiere, the audiences were howling with glee at her antics. Only a Japanese woman could be so exquisitely ...

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