Friday 23 February 2024

River (2023)

A lot of people have rushed to recommend River as another timeloop film from the same team who delivered the inventive and wonderful Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes, but I think it is worth pointing out that writer Makoto Ueda has been working on films utilising time trickery in interesting and fun ways since his wonderful debut, Summer Time Machine Blues

This film starts with Mikoto (Riko Fujitani) praying by the titular river. That river is beside a small inn, and everyone inside the inn, and in the surrounding area, is about to be caught in a 2-minute timeloop. When two minutes elapse, everyone ends up right back where they were, but they have full awareness of their situation. Is there a way out of it, or are they destined to repeat this small amount of time forever and ever?

Shot in numerous 2-minute takes (there may be hidden cuts here and there, nothing stood out to me as majorly fake), this is another blend of great characters, technical ingenuity, and satisfying interweaving storylines on a par with Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes. The only major downside is the third act reveal of what is actually causing the timeloop, although it is a good way to get absolutely everyone working together as a team to try and rescue themselves from their unusual predicament.

Junta Yamaguchi directs the whole thing with the same confidence and attention to detail that made his last timey-wimey feature so enjoyable, helped enormously by Ueda’s script, a deceptive creation that appears to be much lighter than it actually is, and the hard-working cast. Everyone gets a chance to shine, and you will be pleased to get to the end of the film and feel that you spent the runtime in such good company.

Fujitani carries the whole thing easily enough, and she is the focal point for every “reset”, but there are occasional delights from absolutely everyone onscreen, with my personal favourites being a frustrated writer realising he now has much more time to work towards his deadline (Yoshimasa Kondô), and the bemused and pro-active head clerk (Munenori Nagano) who seems to be the fastest thinker when it comes to making the best use of their limited time window to set things up for the next time around.

Also benefiting from the fact that it is shot in such a gorgeous location (seriously, let me book a long weekend in that inn, and I might not even mind being stuck in a timeloop there), the constantly delightful score that feels propulsive without ever overpowering the visuals, and some great little jokes, River is a delight that should easily satisfy those who enjoyed Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate this as being every bit as good as that film.


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