River (Fantasia International Film Festival 2023 Review)

Mark Pacis


Junta Yamaguchi had his debut film, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, at Fantasia International Film Festival two years ago. The film was a DIY iPhone-shot, single-take-style science fiction tale about a television that could look two minutes into the future. Two years later, Yamaguchi returns with another two-minute time loop concept with his second film, River.

The fundamental idea of River sees the characters returning to their initial positions every two minutes on the dot and then having them react with the knowledge of everything from the previous time loops. It’s like Groundhog Day, but instead of a day, you get two minutes, and everyone remembers what happened during the last loop. Although the loop concept starts to teeter towards getting old at the beginning, once it settles down, you begin to enjoy the hilarity of the misadventures of those stuck in the loop.

The interactions are played mainly for comedy here; we have everything from the silly (Sugiyama spends most of his time in a towel with shampoo in his hair because his initial position was in the bath) to the sweet, as embodied by Mikoto’s relationship with Taku. Everyone has a reason for being at the inn, with each person connecting to the film’s central theme.

River is a superb time loop comedy that’ll warm your heart like a bottle of sake.

Where some films would take the theme of moving forward in life and moving on in a more dramatic and tragic direction, River believes in wholesomeness that warms the soul like a warm blanket on a cold wintry night. The film’s carefree attitude and coolness under pressure make River a one-of-a-kind flick. Yamaguchi delivers the film’s central themes about feeling stuck in place versus not fearing the future without heaping the terrifying weight of universal dread upon the audience.

Everything comes together into something utterly beautiful and soothing. Numerous moments pop up throughout, which keep viewers and characters unsure of what to expect. Smaller beats bring big laughs or captivating reveals as characters struggle with their predicaments—from minor things like a shampooed head that can’t get rinsed or forever eating rice to more significant concerns such as failing businesses, questions of mortality, and the uncertainties of love.

Overall, River is a superb time loop comedy that’ll warm your heart like a bottle of sake. Junta Yamaguchi and Makoto Ueda have told stories that have expanded our definitions of time-loop films, made us laugh a lot, and warmed our hearts. They’re the definitive masters of the micro time-loop flicks.

Rating: 4/5 atoms

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