An exquisitely filmed downer from Japan, which may be mistaken for a cautionary tale on the ways of today’s wayward youth. A few hints show this to be a scene set in the 90s, like the absence of cell phones and a reference to going to see a Flipper’s Guitar concert in Shibuya. But this drama about adolescents with experiences way beyond their age shares some common themes with other tragic Japanese tales of teenagers (including one in this year’s lineup, LIVERLEAF, which falls short of RIVER’S EDGE): classrooms run by the kids where teachers are all but absent, intense clique-forming and bullying of individuals, parents mostly in the dark about their children’s social lives. There are scenes of sexual aggressions, drug use, and violence that are quite difficult to bear. So too are the main figures’ impassiveness at all that takes place around them. Every so often ire is raised, mostly that of Haruna, the loosely connected group’s central figure (played by an always fascinating Fumi Nikaido whose languid expressions are easy to get lost in). They can be accused of being vapid characters, written to lack depth. But the film is interesting in its way of cataloguing their trials with an air of neutrality, holding back from casting judgment. It feels like we are viewing these situations from the teenaged protagonists’ untaught and in many ways damaged points of view. It is apparent that, as coolly as they may react, these trials are more than they are equipped to day deal with. Their lack of change begins to feel like a condition of being trapped in their roles, and this makes it possible to empathize. While its cataloging of brutality feels merciless, it is beholden of a strange beauty; definitely worth viewing.
RIVER’S EDGE is being screened at The 2018 New York Asian Film Festival on Tuesday, July 3, at 9:15 PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Visit the NYAFF homepage for tickets and information.