Science fiction, often preoccupied with technology and artificial beings, can sometimes seem overly intricate, neglecting the mundane facets of life. However, this stereotype is not only unfair but also doesn’t hold true for Junta Yamaguchi’s body of work. From his debut feature, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020)  Yamaguchi has masterfully blended the time travel trope with everyday scenarios, proving that thinking small doesn’t equate to playing it safe. His latest creation, River (2023) continues this trend. Set in a 2-minute time loop, the film avoids tedium and repetitiveness, offering instead a heartwarming narrative about human connections, personal growth, and thriving amid adversity.

What’s River (2023) about?

River (2023) - IMDb

River (2023) follows the lives of the staff and guests at an inn in Kibune, Kyoto. Amidst a picturesque backdrop of shrines, forests, and a meandering river, the characters grapple with personal challenges. A writer races against a looming deadline, friends navigate an uncomfortable conversation, and the inn’s owner frets over impending visitors. Among them is Mikoto (Riko Fujitani), a young maid who, despite appearing content in her role, hides inner turmoil. Seeking solace, she decided to take a break and gaze at the flowing river next to the inn. Unfortunately, as she soon realizes, she will be watching that river for a long while because no matter what she does, after two minutes, she will be back in the same spot. She and the rest of the people in the inn are trapped in a time loop!

Initially, everyone adheres to the Japanese expression “shoganai,” which means “it can’t be helped.” Drawing a parallel with a natural phenomenon, the staff acknowledges that the situation is beyond their control and strives to make the best of it. The guests, too, swiftly embrace the positive aspect of uninterrupted meetings and freedom from stress over deadlines that will never come. Nevertheless, as time continues to loop and underlying issues surface, circumstances perhaps become a tad too chaotic to persist in the same state any longer.

Is River (2023) Worth Watching?

River': A creatively contained time-loop flick - The Japan Times

Short answer? Absolutely! As mentioned before, the director Junta Yamaguchi knows how to create entertaining stories in which normal people are confronted by sci-fi elements. While it is usually a small portion of what this genre has to offer, like a two-minute time loop, he knows that something so little can have a big impact in a more sober setting. Still, he makes the smart decision to make his characters react with wonder instead of fear as you would expect. While being stuck in time is an inconvenience, everyone acts as a mundane one like a traffic jam or a storm. This approach gives enough room to explore comedy as the guest starts to experiment with the loop. However, River (2023) can be surprisingly introspective as it also explores what time itself actually means. The film highlights that time’s passage is intrinsic to life, and its stagnation is unnatural. Ultimately, like the river Mikoto watches, life must flow; otherwise, it ceases to exist as we know it.

When it comes to production, River (2023) truly distinguishes itself. While Kyoto’s scenery is inherently beautiful, Yamaguchi skillfully enhances its allure. The depictions of nature exude a breathtaking quality, and the implementation of a soft filter in certain scenes proves to be a creative choice that adds rather than subtracts. The river, the snow, and even the inn itself acquire an aura of coziness and dreamlike charm.

Furthermore, Yamaguchi employs extended shots, occasionally spanning the entire 2-minute loop, to effectively convey the sensation of repetition. Astonishingly, these long takes never descend into chaos or boredom. Instead, they immerse you in the dynamic interplay of the characters. Given their endearing and humorous nature, this approach is both engaging and refreshing.

Final thoughts

RIVER (Yamaguchi Junta, JP, 2023,) - YouTube

River (2023) offers a refreshing respite for moments of relaxation. The storyline, while light-hearted, avoids shallowness and condescension. It’s one of those rare films that prompt contemplation while allowing viewers to delve as deep as their mood permits. It’s a movie that can evoke laughter, stir emotions, or provoke introspection – all without dampening your spirits.

While die-hard sci-fi enthusiasts might find the time loop concept whimsical, embracing the film’s essence allows for an uplifting and wholesome experience. In a world of complexity, River (2023)  stands as a gentle reminder that beauty can be found in life’s simpler, more timeless moments.



We Watched River (2023) at FrightFest 2023

FrightFest 2023

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