River – Fantastic Fest Review

September 27, 202390/1006 min
Riko Fujitani, Manami Honjô, Gôta Ishida
Written by
Makoto Ueda
Directed by
Junta Yamaguchi
Run Time
1h 26min
Release Date
Overall Score
Rating Summary

I don’t think you would find many people disagreeing that we often make life a lot more complicated than it needs to be. We do this in everything, including our stories, both in books and movies. Two years ago, I saw Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, a movie from Junta Yamaguchi about time travel. With its simple concept, it wowed the audiences who got to see it. Now, I know what you’re thinking: time travel and simplicity don’t usually go hand in hand, but Yamaguchi and his team pulled it off, and they did it perfectly. Now they’re back with River, which is bigger in scope but just as simple and perfect as Beyond.

On a quiet winter day in Kibune, Kyoto at a Japanese Inn, everything is pretty relaxed as snow starts to fall in this picture-perfect spot. Out by the river, behind the inn, is Mikoto (Riko Fujitani), as she’s suddenly called back to work. She rushes back upstairs and does what she’s asked, but soon she finds herself in the same spot and position she was in before the call. Confused, she initially thinks nothing of it, chatting with a co-worker and mentioning the strong sense of déjà vu she’s feeling. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that something unusual is happening. Mikoto isn’t the only one experiencing this; her co-workers are as well, and soon they find themselves trying to explain to the guests what’s going on. They soon discover they are stuck in a two-minute time loop, and although they remember everything from each reset, they can’t seem to break free from it. Together, they must figure out how to end this endless loop they are trapped in.

There are plenty of movies, like Groundhog Day, that have explored what it’s like to be trapped within the same day. For Junta Yamaguchi and writer Makoto Ueda, they took a different approach by limiting it to two minutes instead of a full day. By doing this, they set clear constraints. I mean, how much can a person do in two minutes, and how would they handle repeatedly appearing in the same place within such a short window time? There are no elaborate special effects or long explanations; instead, River focuses on coherence and ingenuity, which it accomplishes with great care. It achieves all of this in an organic and entertaining manner, providing one of the most joyful movie experiences you’ll have.

River is sheer perfection in its simplicity and delivers more life in two-minute windows than most movies do in two hours. It offers romance, comedy, and existential questions, and although it might sound overwhelming, the flow is incredibly natural. You might worry that things could become repetitive quickly, but Yamaguchi keeps the story engaging and light-hearted, with gradual developments. All of this adds up to a lot of fun for the audience, and the entire cast is wonderful, making it hard not to fall in love with all of them. I certainly did, and not only with the cast but also with Yamaguchi. After his first two films, I will follow him through any time frame.

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