Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich and the ideal of convenience
Playwright and director Okada Toshiki is one of the leading theatre artists to emerge from Japan in last decade. With his theatre group chelfitsch (a name chosen for its baby-like mispronunciation of the English work selfish), he has developed a style of theatre that is intensely localized and at the same time suggestive of the characteristic ‘non-spaces’ (Marc Augé) of globalization.
I have previously discussed Okada’s work as having an ambient dramaturgy that well matches the everyday sense of dislocation and inertia that is one of the overwhelming experiences of globalisation. Hence, such nonspaces are both familiarly inviting and dystopian. Several of Okada’s plays have considered the contemporary patterns of work in this situation. And, while, for many people, to survive in neo-liberal globality, means to be subjected to efficiency regimes and measurement, another group of people might be said to be trapped in the experience of slow time. So called ‘freeter’ (fur?t?), or part time, low paid workers in service industries such as convenience stores and call centres are people outside the growth assumptions of neo-liberalism and yet subjected to its norms.
In this paper, I consider these themes as they arise in Okada’s recent play ‘Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich’ (2014). Set in a Japanese convenience store or konbini, the play introduces discussions of work, consumerism and the social and cultural experience of konbini in Japan. Konbini are ubiquitous and are in relentless competition for survival. Stocking everything from bento, greeting cards, cat food, comics and condoms, they have largely replaced the small ‘mum and dad’ neighbourhood stores of old. The play also introduces a Brechtian-style analysis of the vast network of ordering, production and distribution that underpin the daily existence of these stores.
On a macro-level we can also see how the play makes connections between this model of freeter capitalism and the wider situation of Japan. The play has a humorous and languid dramaturgical feel contrasting with the fact that it is also set to music and each short scene is accompanied by a section of Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’. This musical intrusion acts as a counterpoint for the play but it also becomes an efficiency regime as the scene must match the rhythm and duration of the musical sequence.
In the play, a small drama is enacted when a customer can longer get her favourite ice cream because declining sales nationally have resulted in it being taken out of stock. My reading of the play will aim to show how these dramaturgical frames are also exploring an ideal of convenience. This is an idea that everything is available at anytime and anywhere; where we assume access to consumption without knowing anything about how that consumption is measured. More broadly, I reflect on how the play contributes to our understanding of globalisation and its effects at the local level.