From director Junta Yamaguchi and screenwriter Makoto Ueda, River is another time looping comedy from the filmmaking team behind Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (BTITM, review here).

Set in Kibune, Kyoto amidst an extremely harsh winter where snow threatens to fall at any given moment, River centers on the local Fujiya inn, a quaint resort whose property boasts a small housing lodge, a restaurant, and the film’s eponymous trickling river.

Haruki Nakagawa and Yoshimasa Kondo in the Japanese sci-fi comedy River. Image courtesy of Third Window Films.

It’s just another day at Fujiya until there’s a sense of déjà vu followed by another, and then another, and another, and so on, but the most interesting aspect of said event is that everyone is aware of the repetition.

Fujiya is stuck in a two-minute time loop between the times of 1:56pm and 1:58pm. While they can remember things from each loop, everything else resets — resulting in food that never diminishes, sake that doesn’t get hot, showers you can never get out of, and essentially the ability to cheat death.

Maybe it’s because Yamaguchi and Ueda gave us a solid low-budget time-looping comedy with BTITM just two years prior, but River isn’t nearly as funny in comparison. Yamaguchi relinquishes the reigns of cinematographer to Kazunari Kawagoe.

And while River still has that familiar handheld feel — the opening and closing close-up shots of waitress Mikoto (Riko Fujitani) are gorgeous — it’s camera work is much smoother in comparison to BTITM, which purposely had this kind of analog atmosphere.

The conflict between the employees of Fujiya and the paying guests staying there is what provides the ridiculous entertainment in River. The employees mostly want to smooth things over until the loop stops while the customers are a mixed bag of wanting the loop to end and hoping it lasts forever. There’s a writer on the verge of a deadline that embraces the loop to the point of destroying things because he knows the temporal event will reset, and even jumping out of his window just to see what would happen.

Riko Fujitani as Mikoto and Munenori Nagano as head clerk in River (2023), Third Window Films

With films like this, characters stuck in the loop can learn how to adapt to their routine. River introduces another layer of unpredictability, since every person at Fujiya is in the loop. The film mostly follows waitress Mikoto and a chef named Taku (Yuki Torigoe). Taku is planning on spending the next seven years in France learning about local cuisine, a secret he’s kept from everyone but Mikoto. The two were in a relationship that only ended because of this new goal.

The repeating day sees Mikoto and Taku spending more time together and running away from the other guests; the waitress may or may not be tied to the reason for the time loop, so the people at Fujiya chase her hopin she can make things normal again.

It begins as a way to have some sort of date in two minutes as their discussions become more and more serious despite the slapstick demeanor of their chasers. They convince a hunter that they’re tengu (a legendary Japanese creature) causing him to kill himself in the next loop.

(From L to R) Yuki Torigoe, Riko Fujitani, and Kazunari Tosa in the Japanese sci-fi comedy River. Image property of Third Window Films.

The funniest joke in River is one of the chefs being concerned about taking a dump, having the day reset, and wondering whether all of the crap that he pushed out goes back inside him. The short answer is yes.

The main flaw River has is it simply isn’t as good as the film that came before it. Though BTITM may be funnier, River puts an incredible spin on the time loop concept. The humor of the film lies within everyone’s reaction to being stuck in such an unbelievable situation.

With such a small window before the day restarts — let alone the fact that every aspect other than everyone’s memory resets back to how it was when the day began — leaves so little to actually be accomplished. There’s no way to make any actual progress, which addresses the question of what can actually be done in two minutes at a time.

(From L to R) Gota Ishida and Masashi Suwa in the Japanese sci-fi comedy River. Image property of Third Window Films.

Besides the comedy, River feels like a more polished version of BTITM in every aspect. It’s still humorous, but just lacks the audible laughs BTITM had. Even though they’re similar in concept, River has an entire area stuck in this time paradox — much like a Bermuda Triangle for its 96-minute run time.

River is smartly written, has a fantastic cast, and is beautifully filmed.

NEXT: Fantasia Film Festival 2023 ‘Mother Land’ Review – The First Korean Stop-Motion Animated Film In 45 Years

Fantasia Film Festival 2023 'River' Review - An Amusing Time Loop Comedy
  • Brilliantly executed time loop concept.
  • Vivid cinematography.
  • Humor is lacking slightly in comparison to Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes.
  • Too familiar to Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes to feel as unique as it should.
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