A promising lead performance isn’t enough to save this muddled and over-sexualised queer thriller from filmmaker Ryūichi Hiroki
Based on Ching Nakamura’s manga series, Gunjō, this attempt at the psychological thriller from Japanese filmmaker Ryūichi Hiroki, set in present day Tokyo, can never make up its mind about what it wants to be. As upbeat jazz numbers and dreamy pop tunes overlay tender, rom-com-esque moments and clash against scenes of gratuitous violence and sex, Ride or Die quickly evokes the sense of two very different films trying to happen at the same time.
Rei (Kiko Mizuhara) is a successful plastic surgeon working in the city and living with her girlfriend, who one day receives an unexpected phone call from her former high-school crush, Nanae (Honami Sato), who is desperate to escape her abusive husband. Blinded by the love she still feels for Nanae ten years on, Rei agrees to murder the brutish spouse and together, the two women go on the run.
At times Ride or Die makes room for a semblance of nuanced conversation about sexuality and identity, but these moments are buried deep beneath terribly written characters and a muddled narrative. Mizuhara provides a small saving grace, doing her best with the wildly confusing nature of her character, slightly elevating the material. But ultimately Ride or Die suggests she's deserving of a far better film.
Then there's the issue of how these women are presented on screen. Ride or Die's director, Ryūichi Hiroki, is best known in Japan for his work in the field of softcore pornography. Though bolstered by female writing, Ride or Die retains an unmistakable male presence. Not only is it tiresome to see yet another lesbian romance in the hands of a male, the approach to the female form is incredibly uncomfortable to watch; bloodied and bruised bodies are presented as spectacle, an erotically-charged lens hungrily tracing over abused skin that is constantly being exposed. The female leads’ intimate moments are often accompanied by sobbing, uneasily sexualising their victims-hoods. Flashbacks to Nanae’s abuse are also incredibly violent and filmed with a visceral brutality that seems totally unnecessary given the emotional depth of the actress’ performance, which captures the impact of the abuse implicitly.
Across an overlong two and a half hour runtime, there are perhaps ten minutes here that could constitute as vaguely interesting or touching drama. Crumbs of representation have since evolved into a complex and compelling canon of queer cinema, with recent films proving LGBTQ+ stories can be told effectively and sensitively across a variety of genres. Sadly, this slog of a thriller doesn't join their ranks.
Ride or Die is now streaming on Netflix.Where to watch