Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 9:21 pm 
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Angsty and chic Japanese high school drama set in 1994

Ichiru Yamada (Ryô Yoshizawa) is the formerly bullied, closeted gay friend of Haruna, the main character (Fumi Nikaido), whose dreams of UFOs doubtless owe something to Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin , but everything in Isao Yukisada's River's Edge is adapted from a popular manga strip by Kyoko Okazaki. This must explain its appeal to an adolescent audience and also the shallowness of the characters. The title, "Ribâzu ejji" in the original, a transliteration of the English, references the more tightly plotted 1986 American movie that helped bring Crispin Glover and Keanu Reeves to public notice. Perhaps this is nostalgic for Japanese forty-somethings? The veteran director Isao Yukisada is now 49.

Ichiiru is still bullied, because Haruna rescues him locked naked in a locker. His victimizer is her own boyfriend, the tall, longhaired wild boy Kannonzaki (Shuhei Uesugi). There is also Kozue Yoshikawa (Sumiru), a bulimic classmate who is in TV ads. Ichiru dates the naive Kanna (Aoi Morikawa), who's unaware that he's gay, just thinks he's "fashionable and mysterious" (using the English word 'mysterious'). Only Haruna knows. Kannonzaki is having sex and snorting coke with the class slut, Rumi (Shiori Doi) - leading to a couple of surprisingly graphic sex scenes. The sequence where Ichiru takes Haruna out into the high grass to show her the decayed corpse he has discovered a year or so ago, having shared this secret earlier with Yoshikawa (they call each other by last names), may evoke Gregg Araki. Araki's Apocalypse Trilogy is more vivid, more fun, but less cool and chic than River's Edge. This film has a ghoulish side, but is also funny; it makes sense to call it a "tragicomedy."

These are Tokyo sophisticates, yet the atmosphere, the "river's edge" being rough and industrial, is also rather seedy. Rather than developing a coherent plot (though there is plenty of action 3/4 of the way through), the manga narrative seems more designed to show what urban Japanese high schoolers were up to in the Nineties, which could be a revelation for the younger and more naive, and titillation for the older who may have missed out on some of this, or anyway are past it now. But no one would want to be up to all these things, which are both idiotic and terrible. We are witness to crimes. It's manga.

River's Edge / リバーズ・エッジ ("Ribâzu ejji"), 118 mins., debuted in the Panorama section of the Berlinale 15 Feb. 2018 and opened in Japan the next day. It also had festival showings at Hong Kong, South Korea's Jeonju International Festival and Nippon Collection in Germany. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival, where it shows 3 Jul. 2018 at 6:30 pm. Jonathan Romney wrote a Screen Daily review from Berlin.

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