Notes on Streaming: Japanese RIVER'S EDGE Walks in Despair
This month I've been exploring Asian films and TV series on Netflix. The results have definitely been mixed.
The streaming service spends hundreds of billions of US dollars on content, often acquiring completed films and series, which they then label as "Netflix Originals." As they've expanded worldwide, the wealth of titles is sometimes bewildering. Although it's easy to search for specific titles, or even specific countries or genres, it's not so easy to discover recent movies from Japan, for example.
So I'm grateful that Instant Watcher exists, allowing me to search for 'International Movies,' and then drill down to 'Japanese Movies,' and then see that Netflix has only added one live-action movie to its US catalog this year.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Within its first 15 minutes, River's Edge establishes itself as a study in miserabilism. Yamada (Yoshizawa Ryo) is a loner who is constantly menaced by bullies, upon whom he quietly swears revenge. He has a girlfriend, a naive young lady, but she has no idea that Yamada is gay.
Neither does anyone else, until Yamada tells Haruna (Nikaido Fumi), a fellow student who defends him, perhaps more out of pity and compassion than any personal feelings towards him. In turn, Haruna is a mostly clear-eyed student, empathetic toward Haruna and tolerant of her wild boyfriend, who is cheating on her with a friend, although Haruna doesn't know about that.
Oh, yes, and then there's a dead body that Yamada discovered on a river bank...
Directed by Yukisada Isao, the film is based on a manga that surely took inspiration from Tim Hunter's River's Edge (1986). It's not so much worried about a plot as it is in sketching portraits of young people in crisis, even if they don't realize it. It's not an easy film to watch, in that once the characters are introduced, we pretty much know what they're going to do, and not much is left to discover.
Note that the film is very frank in its use of sexual elements, which is probably intentional if somewhat exploitational, showing how Haruna and her female pal view (and use) their bodies in separate, quite different situations.
The overall tone was well-expressed by film critic Mark Schilling in Japan Times last year:
"The characters are good and bad, self-centered and self-destructive, wised-up and clueless in combinations that feel real, if extreme. In the usual 'coming-of-age' movie, the young protagonists learn lessons and grow as people. In River's Edge, they have experiences that make impressions and leave wounds. Transcendence will have to wait for the sequel."
River's Edge debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2018. It debuted on Netflix in March 2019.