「あつかんが なべのなかに もどったんです」
“The sake keeps on returning to the pot.”
Kibune in a calm winter. Mikoto (Riko Fujitani), a waitress working at Fujiya, is called back to work by the owner while standing by the Kibune River behind the annex. However, two minutes later, for some reason, the Kibune River is in front of her again. Not only Mikoto, but also the clerk, the waitresses, the chefs and the guests all began to feel something strange. Sake that won’t heat up, a bowl of rice that never empties, a bathroom you can’t leave… They’re caught in a 2-minute time loop.
With River (リバー、流れないでよ), Junta Yamaguchi offers his second feature, once again supported by his colleagues at Europe Kikaku. Two years after the incredible Beyond the infinite two minutes (ドロステのはてで僕ら), Yamaguchi strikes again with another two minutes loop.
Whereas in his first film, Yamaguchi relied on a 2-minute time loop into the future, in River he relies instead on a time loop that repeats the same two minutes over and over again. The director and his screenwriting accomplice Makoto Ueda are practically creating a new genre of cinema, namely the 2-minute time loop. :lol :
I say genre in its own right because the two films have so much in common. In addition to the 2-minute loop, we could talk about the highly mobile, mainly “shoulder-mounted” camera, the surreal action anchored in a very normal reality, or betting on the actors’ performances rather than on a highly worked image.
Now, what makes this film so good is how well the screenplay manages to use a 2-minute sequence, do it over and over again, and still make it highly interesting. The whole film takes place in one location, in an inn on the banks of the Kibune River. And the film repeats the same 2-minute sequence for just over an hour. And yet, the film never feels like it’s going in circles. It has to be said that the madness is there. Although we’re not laughing out loud, we’re smiling from beginning to end, and the “situation comedy” style is exploited to perfection. The chemistry between the actors, most of whom have known each other for a long time, is excellent.
Add to this the enchanting landscape of Kibune, the beauty of the Fujiya restaurant, and the superb Kifune temple where the final scene takes place. The director makes special mention of the exceptional collaboration between the people at the restaurant and those at the temple. It’s not often you shoot in a temple…
I’m going to use the term “dramatic comedy” for lack of a better one in mind. But River doesn’t really follow the pattern of comedy-drama as we know it. I use the term simply because beyond the comedy, there are more dramatic moments. Moments that remain fundamentally funny despite everything. Moments like a suicide or a road accident that… is repeating itself over and over again, of course.
The talented cast includes Riko Fujitani as Nakai Mikoto, who works at the long-established Fujiya restaurant, Yuki Torigoe as Taku, an apprentice chef (with whom Mikoto is in love), Manami Honjo, Saori and Yoshimasa Kondo. Munenori Nagano, Takashi Tsunoda, Yoshifumi Sakai, Masaru Suwa, Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa and other members of the European project also appear. In addition, Shiori Kubo from Nogizaka46 makes an appearance as the character who holds the key to the story.
So it’s with a typically Japanese sense of humor that everyone performs. Riko Fujitani (藤谷理子) is particularly effective thanks to her accurate nonverbals. She manages to make believable a character who has to be funny yet serious. Try to look believable when you’re wearing a tight-fitting kimono, which doesn’t leave you much legroom, as you try to escape as quickly as possible.
Doing the absurd is always difficult. We tend to think comedy is easy. But being believable and funny at the same time is quite an art. Even more so when you’re dealing with the absurd in a very realistic setting. And in this case, a very traditional one.
Kyoto-born rock band Quruli propose Smile from their Ai no Taiyo EP as the theme song. It’s a song with a warm ambience, featuring wind instruments that lend an assumed lightness to the film.
An unprecedented time-loop comedy is born in this place where we can enjoy the gap between the dignified winter silence of Kibune and the adults desperate to escape the new prison of time called a two-minute loop.
Believe me, this film is worth the detour. Personally, I’m already looking forward to the next film from this crazy bunch.
River (リバー、流れないでよ) screens at Fantasia, July 28, 2023.
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