[Fantasia 2023] RIVER -- A Charming Time Loop Comedy From the Team Behind BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES
Review by Sean Boelman
Director Junta Yamaguchi and writer Makoto Ueda’s first film Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes took Fantasia by storm when it played there in 2021, and now their second team up, River, brings them back to the festival two years later. While not as strong as the duo’s first effort, River is still a crowd-pleasing sci-fi comedy.
The movie follows the visitors and staff of a riverside inn as they find themselves stuck in a time loop, where everyone resets to their initial positions every two minutes, but keeps their memories. Like Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, River is a charming little high concept sci-fi despite its occasional contrivances and conveniences.
For the first third of the film, it can be a bit grating as it’s stuck firmly in “we have to tell everyone what is happening” mode. Admittedly, this is where the movie’s commitment to some semblance of reality drags it down. Ueda clearly wants this to feel like what people would do if time machines did exist, and while explaining it a million times to different people is probably what would happen, that doesn’t mean it's particularly cinematic.
Thankfully, the film eventually runs out of characters for exposition to be delivered to, and this is where the movie gets really charming and interesting. It’s interesting to see how the different characters begin to react to their circumstances. Some put their heads together to find a solution, others embrace it and try to live in the moment, and one even gets extremely nihilistic.
For the most part, the film feels very sweet and wholesome. Although there are a couple moments in which Yamaguchi leans into the darker potential of the premise, even these bits are delivered in a tongue-in-cheek way. There’s a romantic subplot that, while not super prevalent, adds a lot of humanity to the story.
Ueda’s script thrives in its ability to give us an ensemble of characters that feel surprisingly fleshed out for a movie that’s under an hour and a half in length. While they may start out as archetypes, the various “cycles” that we go through in the movie allow the audience to peel back the layers of their personalities in a way that is quite interesting.
Although the film is very low-budget, Yamaguchi manages to make the most of his limitations. The cinematography, while having an extremely digital feel to it, is extremely fluid for its two-minute takes. And perhaps most impressive is his command of blocking and geography, which give the movie a much-needed feeling of motion.
River arguably swings bigger than Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, and while it’s not as effective, it’s certainly charming. The duo of Yamaguchi and Ueda have cemented themselves as two of the most exciting voices working in Japanese independent cinema today, and genre fans will be waiting eagerly to see what they do next.
River screened at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs from July 20 to August 9.