Magazine article Screen International

'River's Edge': Berlin Review

Magazine article Screen International

'River's Edge': Berlin Review

Article excerpt

Retro Japanese teen drama opens Berlin’s Panorama sidebar

Fumi Nikaidou, Ryo Yoshizawa

Dir. Isao Yukisada . Japan. 2018. 118 mins.

Teenage angst is one of the dependable universals of modern movie culture, and although Isao Yukisada’s River’s Edge gives the theme a distinctively Japanese spin, there’s enough that’s familiar about this intermittently gripping ensemble drama to leave you finally thinking: it’s all just a phase they’re going through. The source is an early 90s manga series by Kyoko Okazaki, and although there’s no direct connection with the 1987 US film, the theme - the shared secret of a dead body - is close enough to suggest that Tim Hunter’s movie must have influenced the comic.

Most of the characters have a strictly manga-level depth, and are all more or less archetypes

The cleverly constructed drama, compellingly acted by a charismatic young cast, is absorbing as it builds, but once things hit a hyperventilating climax, there are finally fewer surprises than promised. After opening the Berlin Panorama, this watchably retro piece from Yukisada - whose films include box-office topper Crying Out Love In The Center Of The World (2004) and last year’s Narratage - isunlikely to make waves beyond Japan.

Set in an industrial waterside area of Tokyo in 1994, the story revolves around a group of variously troubled high-schoolers. Most balanced, and the film’s more or less grounded emotional centre, is Haruna (Fumi Nikaidou), a strong-spirited young woman seen rescuing a young man from the locker where he’s been bound and gagged naked. He’s Ichiro (Ryo Yoshizawa), the moody, morbid, misunderstood class outsider, who is being victimised by Haruna’s boyfriend Kannonzaki (Shuhei Uesugi), a rebellious bad boy with a violent streak. Behind Haruna’s back, Kannonzaki is also meeting up for kinky sex with class vamp Rumi (Shiori Doi), whose private life brings home the film’s highly conservative message that young sex is the royal road to big trouble.

Haruna becomes Ichiro’s confidante; he confesses that he’s secretly gay, and that he’s only dating the bright and bushy-tailed ingenue Kanna (Aoi Morikawa) as a front. …

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