Fantasia 2023 Review: RIVER, Laughs and Thinking About the Future, Two Minutes at a Time
In the wintry valley town of Kibune, Japan, we will find the Fujiya Inn. There we find one of the waitresses, Mikoto. They are sent to the basement to do a quick inventory count when Mikito steps out back where a small river runs behind the inn. As they look out they have a small prayer and go about their work.
Two minutes later they're back behind the inn, in the same spot by the river. Weird. A case of deja vu perhaps? Mikito gets back to work, and… two minutes later she is back behind the inn, again. Something is wrong. They know it. The other employees and guests also sense it as well. They discover they are all stuck in an endless cycle of two minute loops. If they do not figure how and why they may be stuck this way forever.
Having already knocked it out of the park with their very entertaining 2020 breakout hit Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes Yamaguchi is back once again with another really funny time travel tale, River.
River is a story about very human responses to the moment. Mikoto’s crush, Takusa, is making a decision about his future as a chef and Mikoto does not know if they will accept that. A struggling writer, sequestered at the hotel with their assistant, is under intense pressure to finish their next serial novel. Now they do not have to finish the novel. Two friends meet for a meal at the inn. The rice never dries out now but one of them has an ulterior motive for bringing the other there.
Worst of all, the sake will not get warm.
River is a funny movie, a seriously funny movie. Every loop has jokes in it, from normalizing the weirdness of the situation, keeping a stiff upper lip, to embarrassing situations for Mikoto. These are a handful of examples; much more than that is playing out loop after loop evoking whoops of laughter at every turn of the minute hand. In true Japanese fashion the cause of the looping causes uproarious laughter as well. River is a bonafide laugh fest.
Perhaps gauging that the Mobius strip structure of time travel in their first film went over more heads than expected, Yamaguchi has dialed back on the theory of time travel. This time around they do not build on top of these two minute intervals but simply loop back to the start.
With their memories intact, everyone collects information among themselves and tries to figure out what is going on. Unable to cope with the cycle, despair sets in with some at the inn as the same two minutes repeat themselves. A real response to a feeling of helplessness, it also helps to motivate everyone to find a solution to the problem.
In the end, River is about letting go and moving forward. The staff at the inn, their patrons and their friends not only move on from the loop they are also moving on in life. The endless loops forced everyone to pause, consider what moving on truly means and proceed from there. It is a lesson for everyone who is not caught in such a cycle, make time to consider how you move forward in life.
In just two films the duo of Junta Yamaguchi and Makoto Ueda have told stories that have stretched our mental fortitudes and more importantly made us laugh a lot and warmed our hearts. They shall hereby be known as two masters of micro-budget time-travel movies.