River (2023)

River (2023)

A delightful and ultimately life-affirming Japanese time loop comedy clearly made with love

The Very Best



Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa
86 min


A perfect cinematic representation of "every second counts" (affectionate) versus "every second counts" (threatening).

What it's about

The staff and guests at a traditional Japanese ryokan inn finds themselves caught in a time loop, as they constantly reset to the same positions every two minutes.

The take

Made on a clearly lower budget but with enthusiasm and love for the craft overflowing from every frame, Junta Yamaguchi's River gets clean and wholesome comedy—that's still plenty memorable—out of a terrific ensemble of actors, all of whom get to display a full range of expression for their increasingly exasperated characters. It's smart, economical filmmaking that's still dazzlingly put together, as each two-minute loop is done in a single unbroken shot that feels different with every reset. Yamaguchi is highly aware of how quickly this gimmick might overstay its welcome, so he allows the film's emotional landscape to open up considerably with every cycle. As the hell of this situation starts to chip away at the characters, the film also becomes more urgent and more soulful, leading the story down unexpected paths and inviting us to think beyond the pattern it sets up for itself.

What stands out

Screenwriter Makoto Ueda deserves as much credit as Yamaguchi for getting the film to evolve from its cliches and constant repetition in a convincing, emotionally cohesive manner. Each character in River becomes a figure through which to explore various perspectives on one major theme: human stubbornness, or our resistance to confront the things that will bring about the uncertainty of change. And while some of the guests and staff at the inn seem to have much less pressing matters on their minds compared to those dealing with the end of an entire stage in their lives, the film validates them all—emphasizing that they can only break out of this loop together, and can only do so by letting go of things that are dear to them and mending things that they'd rather remain broken. For all its simplicity, River's emotional impact can still sneak up on and surprise you.


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