Supermarket Woman (1996)

JUZO ITAMI

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Original Title: Sûpâ no onna

, 1996. , . Screenplay by Jûzô Itami. Cinematography by . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by . Film Editing by .

Director Juzo Itami returns to fine form with this boisterous comedy that takes his familiar concerns with societal corruption into the world of supermarket practices. is terrific as the owner of the Honest Mart, a middling grocery store that is about to be put out of business by the arrival of the much more powerful Discount Demon in the same neighbourhood. He runs into old school chum and she gives him the low-down on what she thinks is wrong with his store, from the dirty aprons on his employees to the obviously expired food on his shelves.

Inspired by her know-how about the business, he hires her as his chief checkout clerk and Miyamoto blazes into the place like a new sheriff in a dusty old town, questioning the wisdom of repackaging older foods to avoid losing profits, and spiffing up the employees’ treatment of their customers. She meets with resistance from the hired artisans who cut the meat and fish in the prep room, but she also shows results in daily sales, so Tsugawa promotes her to Assistant Manager and she goes deeper in her devotion to putting their store back at the top of its game.

Things get nasty when it is learned that Discount Demon has a mole on the inside who has been taking kickbacks to help with their plans to take over the Honest Mart, and there’s also the little problem of the employee who is selling expensive meats on the side which the store is paying for without seeing any profit.

Played at a breakneck speed that never abates for a moment, this film is one of the greatest examples of Itami’s fruitful collaboration with his real-life wife Miyamoto, who gives an energetic and inspired performance as a woman who teaches the people around her that integrity is far more meaningful in the long run than profit is in the moment. Treating this investigation of consumer affairs with the dedication that one brings to a more expansive topic in a political thriller, Itami doesn’t ridicule the milieu in which the film takes place but rather convinces you of the importance of it as a subject, that the nation’s shoppers being able to trust the stores where they buy the food that feeds their families is the first step towards its people going on to achieve greater things.

A bouncy musical score, superb direction and some awe-inspiring crowd scenes are topped off by a thrilling car chase for a ride that is funny, touching and deeply satisfying.

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