River [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Japan - Toho
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (7th January 2024).
The Film

"River" 「リバー、流れないでよ」 (2023)

At a small riverside inn in Kyoto, something mysterious takes place. The workers and the guests start to realize that time is looping every two minutes. After each two minutes, everyone returns to the same position that they were in previously, with no particular change except that they have memories of their previous loops. During their seemingly infinite two minutes, they scramble to find the cause of the issue, but they are extremely limited in what they can do and where they can go.

"River" was produced by production troupe Europe Kikaku, which over the last 25 years has produced a number of stage productions, television series, feature films, as well as online content in more recent years. Their previous feature film "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" from 2020 was an incredibly creative independent feature and also a logistically painstaking film to make with its setup. In that film, it was about a television that communicates with a two minute gap with a separate television upstairs, resulting in one showing two minutes into the future. While the premise of what could happen in a two minute period sounds limiting, screenwriter Makoto Ueda concocted a brilliant story in a limited environment, which was equally funny as it was fascinating. In addition, the film is done in a single take with the camera following the characters at all times. Though it is shown in the making of that they had some invisible cuts, the actors and the crew mostly endured on takes that were about ten minutes a piece, and they had to be spot on in timing and location to accommodate what appeared on screen in the future two minute television monitor. For "River", they kept with the 2 minute concept for a spiritual sequel, with many of the actors returning though in differing roles. Rather than a single long take, they instead did a series of single shot takes that lasted exactly two minutes, with each being different in actions as the characters become aware of the looping scenario. There have been time loop scenarios on film such as "Groundhog Day" looping a single day, or with "Mondays: See You 'This' Week!" looping a full week, a loop of a short two minutes makes things incredibly limited in terms of what characters are able to do. What makes things interesting here in "River" is the different characters, how they react, and the different paths they take while having the main focus on one character.

Mikoto (played by Riko Fujitani) is the protagonist of the film, who is a young server at the inn. She likes the apprentice chef Taku (played by Yuki Torigoe) but has not had the courage to express her love for him. He is secretly thinking about quitting his position to move to France to become a French chef, though Mikoto has seen hints. She obviously wants him to stay for her, but she doesn't want to discourage him from his dreams.

Eiji (played by Yoshifumi Sakai) is a chef at the inn, who is quite intelligent in puzzle solving and creativity in addition to his cooking skills. On the other hand, the head chef (played by Takashi Sumita) is clueless to everything except for his ability with cooking.

Mr. Obata (played by Yoshimasa Kondo) and Mr. Sugiyama (played by Haruki Nakagawa) are guests at the inn. Obata is suffering through writer's block and cannot seem to get any new ideas across for his next novel. Sugiyama is his agent that brings him to the peaceful rural inn to help with inspiration, but is met with frustration.

Mr. Nomiya (played by Masashi Suwa) and Mr. Kusumi (played by Gota Ishida) are friends and former coworkers who are staying at the inn together. They are in awe of the delicious food provided and the wonderful scenery, though there seems to be some unresolved problems buried in their past.

In addition, there are other supporting characters with the head clerk of the inn Kohachi (played by Munenori Nagano), the head madam of the inn Kimi (played by Manami Honjo), Mikoto's coworker Chino (played by Saori), the lone hunter (played by Kazunari Tosa), and the girl visiting the shrine Hisame (played by Shiori Kubo) each having smaller yet still impacting roles during the course of the story. At first it is a few that seemingly figure out that they are in a time loop that lasts exactly two minutes, while others are late to notice. Mikoto and Kohachi are the first to notice as both head to the same place and start to have the same conversation. Others like Nomiya and Kusumi are just sitting and eating in their room and notice later that no matter how much they eat, the amount of food stays the same. The same goes for Sugiyama who is taking a bath and is relaxing alone. With each two minute loop, the characters try to band together to figure out what is going on, how to explain the situation to others, and how to rectify the solution, with the major issue of everyone resetting to their first positions with every loop. The characters experience panic and anger as well as friendship and camaraderie, all at differing times and differing situations. Some start to go insane while others try to calm them down, and many other hilarious and wild antics in between.

Director Junta Yamaguchi experimented with long takes and single shot sequences in "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes", this time with cinematographer Kazunari Kawagoe having the difficult task of running around the environment, walking up and down stairs, and through snow covered streets in multiple takes with the camera constantly moving. There are some shots that would have been much easier if shot with a drone, but everything is done handheld without the aid of any visual effects for the most part. It was discovered during the shoot that some of the dialogue and walkthroughs that were not possible in two minutes and had to be changed during production to fit the sequences, so there were many issues with rewrites during its production. In addition to that, the production was shot from January 2023, which saw some of the heaviest snowfall in recent years in the area of Kyoto. As it was shot entirely on location at an actual inn in Kibune, Kyoto, this created a continuity issue with the two minute loops as some days there were would be green grass and other days would be covered in snowfall. Some of the scenes had to be rewritten to accommodate the heavy snowfall, and the changing weather was made into the script as the climate being affected by the time loop situation. In addition, the scenes involving Mikoto and Taku's relationship opening up were shot with the snowfall for visual continuity. There were a number of other changes made from the script to the final feature due to the limitations and the small crew at work, but the folks of Europe Kikaku did a fantastic job with the creation of a science fiction time loop story that is a bit different from what was seen in previous similar features.

It does have some flaws with its logic and there are some times that certain plot points and characters were not fully utilized to their best. But sometimes less can be more, as the imagination must be used to fill in the blanks of what the other characters are going though. In essence "River" is an excellent story of people having to come together even in an impossible situation, while battling themselves for sanity. It's absolutely well directed and well performed by all the actors. Sakai, Sumita, Nakagawa, Suwa, Ishida, Nagano, and Tosa are all part of Europe Kikaku and have performed with each other for numerous productions for a number of years. Fujitani is the newest member of Europe Kikaku and had a bit role in "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" (which also starred Sakai, Nakagawa, Suwa, Ishida, Nagano, and Tosa), though here she is given the lead role (which is the polar opposite of Tosa, who had the lead role in their previous film but an almost cameo-like appearance in "River"). The non-Europe Kikaku actors who joined the production accommodated to the unique work environment of the ensemble troupe, which was closer to stage than screen in their approach and a collaborative effort to bring something new and different to the screen with extreme limitations.

"River" was shot between January and March of 2023 and the film opened theatrically on June 23rd, 2023 in Japan. 2020's "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" became somewhat of a minor fluke hit with its Japanese theatrical release, as it opened during the COVID-19 pandemic in which theaters were open with limited capacity and there were few new productions that were screened. Though it was shot and produced independently by Europe Kikaku, Toho stepped in to help distribute the film which reached a larger audience than expected. This was also coupled with further international festival screenings and theatrical releases. Toho again helped with the distribution of "River", which opened both in indie cinemas and at major Toho Cinemas around the country. The film grossed 800 million theatrically in Japan, which is respectable for an indie production but was not particularly a major hit, and didn't quite hit with a mass audience even though it had positive notices. The film is currently making rounds at international film festivals from 2023 to the present time, and Third Window Films from the UK is distributing the film in the United Kingdom in 2024. Six months after the film's Japanese theatrical release, Toho has released the film on Blu-ray.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Toho presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The production was shot digitally. The transfer features a sharp picture throughout though there are some out of focus moments due to the constantly moving camera throughout the location. It is also quite bright with focus on pales and whites, and sometimes a bit too much. Whites from the chefs' uniforms can sometimes be glaring due to the color balance against the glaring sunlight in outdoor sequences, though the indoor scenes are better balanced with richer colors. Due to the camera constantly gliding in and out, there are some issues with the color balance, though cloudy or snowy segments provide a more natural look. The golden brown hues of the inn walls, the darks within certain wardrobes, and the greens of the surroundings are rich and crisp, and provides a pleasing viewing experience throughout.

The film's runtime is 86:02

Audio

Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
Japanese Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

There are two lossless options with 5.1 and 2.0 stereo as well as an audio descriptive track in Dolby Digital, all in the original Japanese language. For the 5.1 track, the dialogue, music, and effects are well balanced and always clear, though as it is a dialogue heavy feature it is the center speaker that will get the biggest workout. The remaining channels are used for music cues effectively and when necessary. Dialogue is always clear and consistent without unnatural spikes in sound, and there are no issues with dropout, hiss, or other problems to speak of. The stereo track is a folddown of the 5.1 and while it is good, the scenes in which the surround channels kick in with music cues or the gunshot prove to be more effective with the 5.1 track.

There are optional English, Japanese HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed, easy to read, and are free from spelling or grammar errors.

Extras

Audio commentary with actor Riko Fujitani, writer Makoto Ueda and director Junta Yamaguchi
Fujitani, Ueda, and Yamaguchi sit for the first group commentary for the feature. Discussed are the pacing of the film, the difficulties in timing every sequence to two minutes, Fujitani on filming in her hometown of Kibune, rewriting scenes on location to accommodate the weather and the actors, choosing the location and placings of each scene, changes from the original script, and more. Although the writer and director are both here to speak, they never discuss about the origin of the story or the preproduction process, instead just focusing on what is on screen, which is a bit of a disappointment.
in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Audio commentary with actors Yuki Torigoe, Kazunari Tosa, Yoshifumi Sakai, and Takashi Sumita
This second group commentary is actor focused with Torigoe, Tosa, Sakai, and Sumita in a discussion. For Torigoe it was his first time to work with Europe Kikaku on a production so he expresses his surprises and his comments on the production from an outsider's angle. In addition, the four discuss their favorite loop of the film, comments and jokes on each others' performances, while also praising the teamwork of the cast and crew, as well as changes made during production.
in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Making" documentary (63:25)
This hour plus documentary features a chronologically edited video diary of the production. Within it are candid interviews with the cast and crew on set, behind the scenes B-roll, rehearsals to get the timing right with the 2 minute scenes, the impact the severe weather had on the production, fun moments with the staff, and more. In addition it includes some footage and stills from various screenings within Japan and around the world at the end. This is an excellent documentary that looks at the production, but unfortunately there is nothing documenting the pre-production and rehearsal stages.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with some burned-in Japanese subtitles

Optional commentary on the documentary by actors Masashi Suwa, Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, and Munenori Nagano
Like Europe Kikaku did with their Blu-ray release of "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes", they've added a third commentary, but on the documentary rather than the main feature. This is another actor's discussion, this time with Suwa, Ishida, Nakagawa, and Nagano together. They joke that no one is going to listen to a third commentary let alone one on a documentary, but are quick to give their comments on the production. They recall the delicious food they were able to eat at the inn, the fun they had on set with the other actors, the trouble with the snow, and their reactions to having some big name performers being cast in their independent film. Like the other two commentaries, tt's not heavy on background information and is more of a party.
in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Smile - River Version" music video by Quruli (3:30)
This music video for rock duo Quruli's song which plays during the credits is presented here with behind the scenes footage and still photos of the film's production.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

Teaser 1 (0:32)
Teaser 2 (0:32)

Two short teasers without dialogue but have the Quruli song along with text that only hint about the time loop scenario. The teasers have been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles





Trailer (1:32)
The full trailer with dialogue and music showcases the time loop scenario fully with some example sequences. The trailer has also been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 without subtitles




Other notable clips:


Japanese Blu-ray release trailer


English subtitled trailer, courtesy of Third Window Films


A short version of the making-of documentary

Packaging

The disc is packaged in a keep case, which is housed in a sturdy slipbox. In the box is also a 16 page booklet which includes a map of the area with icons indicating the starting positions of each of the characters, a text interview with Ueda, a text interview with Yamaguchi, behind the scenes stills, cast biographies, and disc credits in Japanese.

While Europe Kikaku released their Blu-ray of "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" in Japan themselves, they were able to secure a distribution with Toho for "River", making it available in various shops in store and online rather than just their own webshop. The design of the package and the disc's layout is similar in style to "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" so they will both line up nicely together on the shelf if they were to be placed side by side.

Overall

"River" gives an interesting twist to the time loop sci-fi genre by limiting it to a strict two minutes, and presents the story in a wonderfully funny and charming presentation by the ensemble troupe Europe Kikaku. It's highly entertaining and absolutely rewatchable, with little details that will certainly be missed when watching the first time around. The Toho Blu-ray features an excellent transfer and a good amount of extras, though note for English speaking audiences that only the main feature is subtitled here. Still comes as highly recommended.

The Film: A- Video: A- Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it and amazon.es . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.