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River (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000224859
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 23/2/2024 18:50
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    Review for River

    8 / 10


    I’m taken with the question whether lightning can strike, not twice, but thrice. There are many filmmakers who play in multiple genres, but there are also some who appear to find a niche, a particular forte, and stick with it. The problem with this approach is one of diminishing returns. River is the third time-travel comedy from the pen of Makoto Ueda that has passed my way, another such film from the creators of Summer Time Machine Blues, and the brilliant Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. The director of the latter, Junta Yamaguchi also returns to direct River off the back of the stunning festival success of that film, and it turns out to be another 2-minute time loop adventure. There’s already so much in common when it comes to the premise to leave me with a little concern.

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    River follows the employees and guests of a hot springs inn in the picturesque town of Kibune one winter’s day, as seen through the eyes of attendant Mikoto. It seems like a normal day, but then all of a sudden, time starts repeating. Every two minutes, people suddenly find themselves where they initially were, compelled to continue repeating what they were doing at that moment. The thing is that they also remember everything that happened in previous loops. There’s novelty at first, then panic and frustration, until they realise they have to break the cycle, but they only have two minute chunks to investigate the cause and to find a solution.

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    River gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese audio and optional English subtitles. It’s a solid enough image, although it does seem to have that slight softness associated with digital. The film is shot on location, and with plenty of natural light, but still offers consistent colours, and great detail. The audio is fine, the dialogue is clear, and the film gets some nice music, including a theme that has a hint of The Monkees Daydream Believer to it; ironic, as the Western release of Napping Princess had a Japanese cover of the song removed because of rights issues. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.

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    The disc boots to an animated menu, where the theme song is repeated (although the audio on the menu screen sounds out of phase). You get the following extras on the disc.

    Director Junta Yamaguchi Interview (17:52)
    Making Of (63:23)
    Trailer (1:31)

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    The written premise of River is so similar to Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, with the central story mechanism of the two-minute time loop, that I wondered if River would feel redundant in the end. Also, the two-minute time loop is short enough that it could become repetitive in a 90 minute feature, and it’s worth noting that Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes was actually 15 minutes shorter than this follow-up film. But in the end, the two films are tonally quite different, and it’s explained even further in the extras. Beyond was about the mechanism, about the logic of the loops, about stimulating the intellect of the viewer. River is about stimulating the heart; it strays from the confines of its concept to better explore and develop the characters, the emotions that they go through.

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    River obviously leans heavily on Groundhog Day, although with everyone recalling events in previous loops, it certainly develops more dynamically. However with the brief duration of the loops, I did feel that tedium did set in pretty quickly with the film. Certainly it allows for the characters to progress rapidly, from a first loop of déjà vu, to subsequent loops of exploration and attempts at understanding, to frustration, despair and despondency, as the sense of being trapped begins to overwhelm.

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    You have various characters to follow, albeit from the perspective of the attendant Mikoto. There are all the other employees in the inn, somewhat absurdly trying to adapt to the new situation, serving their customers in two minute loops. It’s their customers who wind up making things hard, the couple who begin every loop eating rice, the author battling writer’s block, his editor continually getting steamed in the shower as well as the amateur scientist in the kitchen staff who’s trying to explain what’s going on.

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    I had a hard time with the first half of the film, the repetitive nature of the loops did little to interest me, and this is a concept that has been used so many times before, most notably in Groundhog Day, but also in 12:01, in a Star Trek Next Generation episode, and of course Edge of Tomorrow. But at the halfway mark, River takes a turn that made me perk right up again. Unlikely as it seems for the denizens of a hot springs inn in contemporary Japan, they start looking for the cause of the time loops, and even a way to break out. Of course given that the inn is next to the titular river, which like all such places in Japanese culture, has an associated deity, the first suspicion is supernatural; that someone made a wayward wish. With the blame game that ensues, the film turns into something of a chase movie, until the film takes a leaf from Murder on the Orient Express.

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    It may start off feeling generic and tired, but River becomes special when the cause of the time loop takes centre stage. The characters are all interesting and engaging, and through these loops wind up resolving their respective issues, and the film winds up taking some interesting turns on the way to its resolution. Once again, Third Window Films comes up with the goods when it comes to quality of presentation and extra features. River is well worth your time.

    River is available from Terracotta, from Arrow, and from mainstream retailers (although don’t ask me what’s going on with Amazon right now).

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