WTF ASIA 218: Ride or Die (2021)

And I would kill anyone for love…

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 143 minutes.

 

 

Nagasawa Rei takes a taxi to an underground bar/restaurant and walks around and around…how big is this place? How many bars does this place have? Is this a tracking shot? Is this entire movie going to just be a tracking shot of her walking around?

Rei sits at one of the bars and orders a double shot of tequila. So, the bartender puts her order together and gives it to her. And then she asks him to send one of the shots to the only other person at that bar. He gives one shot to the guy, who looks up from…whatever he was looking at. He looks at Rei. She looks at him. They both drink their shots.

The guy goes over to Rei and OH MY GOD IT FINALLY CUT! It had been four goddamn minutes. Anyways, he takes her shot glass and orders another. Without really looking at her, he asks Rei if she always invites guys like this. Without really looking at him either, Rei replies that this method is easier. He kind of rolls his eyes at that, but she says that he looked lonelier than anyone else here. Now, he looks at her, a little perplexed and amused. She asks if he doesn’t like, so now he really looks at her and says that he doesn’t dislike girls like her. This whole exchange was done without much real sensual passion, but they both seemed to understand that this was mere formality. We all know where this is going. Second shot.

In the taxi, the man puts his arm around Rei, but she removes it and leans out the window. He asks where she wants to go. She suggests his house. He counter-suggests the Hyatt, but she reveals her fetish for having sex in a house tidied up by the guy’s wife…right. So, fine. His house it is.

At the guy’s apartment, Rei is performing fellatio on him. Oh…I guess that he finished. He asks her how much she makes per month and she claims that she doesn’t do this for money.

So, the guy kind of tosses Rei onto the bed, removes her clothes, and kisses her body. She is extremely passive for almost a minute until he asks what she wants to do. She kisses him, gets on top of him, and starts riding him. She asks him to give her his wife. The one in the photograph. He teasingly calls her a pervert. They continue to have sex as Rei reaches into her bag and pulls out…what is that?

Oh, that is a knife…which Rei uses to stab the man in the neck. He throws her off of him, making her fall into a glass table. He pulls the knife out of his neck…bad idea. Not that it really matters, since Rei takes a broken glass and slashes his throat. He falls down dead. Rei, covered in mostly his blood, is almost in shock. She looks at his wedding photo, splattered in blood.

Flashback to the day before. Rei is a cosmetic surgeon and the same kind of knife that she will use to stab the man, she is using to give a woman the double eyelids. Oh, is that still a thing?

Later, Rei goes to a cemetery to pay respects to a dead family member. She is accompanied by her father, her brother, her brother’s pregnant wife, and their four children. As they are leaving, Rei and her sister-in-law Yu, are talking about the baby to be. Rei’s brother, Masato, says that Rei should get married soon and give their father a grandchild. Their father asks Rei if she likes anyone and she says maybe.

Rei goes to pick up a birthday cake and brings it to her apartment. She puts the cake in the fridge and finds Mika the birthday girl drinking in the bathtub. Rei has told her that it could be dangerous, but it is her birthday…and Mika is older than Rei is anyways. So, Rei makes an exception and pours her a drink. Mika starts flirting with Rei and they make out for a little bit.

Rei’s phone rings and she goes to get it. It is Shinoda. Who? Tsujimura. Tsujimura? Tsujimura Nanae? Nanae admits that it has been a while since they had been in contact. After awkwardly minimal chit chat, Nanae asks if they can meet. After some hesitation, Rei agrees to meet her.

That night, Rei drives to Nanae’s apartment. Quite a fancy place. Nanae says that Rei had not changed, even though it has been ten years since they last met. Rei asks how Nanae’s husband is, and Nanae says that he is doing great.

Rei remembers the last time that they had met ten years ago. At a café, Nanae paid back a debt to Rei of 3 million yen, or around 30,000 USD, noting that it took less than five years. Rei asked Nanae what her husband thought about this, and Nanae said that he apologized for all the trouble that she had caused. Rei concludes that he must be a decent guy. Nanae suggests that they pay for their coffees separately. Rei offers to help Nanae with anything in the future in case she gets into trouble again and her husband cannot help, but Nanae says that they will not meet again.

Back in the one day ago, Nanae hugs Rei and says that she loves her. Rei calls Nanae a liar. Nanae smiles and kisses her. Instead of arguing, Nanae asks if Rei still loves her. Rei is stoic and silent. So, Nanae takes off her clothes, revealing a whole lot of bruises. Rei is shocked, but Nanae smirks. Did Rei really think that Nanae could live a happy life with that meager amount of money? Rei asks if her husband did this. Nanae nods. Her cold demeanor gone, Rei tries to hug Nanae, but any touch hurts Nanae. Nanae says that Rei can go home, but Rei refuses.

After recounting a beating from her husband, Nanae says that either he dies or she will. Rei says that he deserves to die if she is going to. If that is the case, Nanae then asks if Rei could kill him. We don’t hear the answer, but it is obviously yes.

Back to the present and…Rei calls Nanae. It’s all over. And Rei had left fingerprints all over the apartment as well as gotten seen on camera. The police will be looking for her. They won’t investigate further as long as they know that Rei was the culprit. This was not part of Nanae’s plan. She asks where Rei is, but Rei doesn’t say. So Nanae hangs up and starts driving.

I guess that Nanae had been parked nearby because she soon finds Rei standing on a bridge. She orders Rei to get in. They drive off. Where are they going? Anywhere. Rei grins. No one is going to hit or kick Nanae anymore.

The two check in to a fancy hotel, where Rei can finally wash off all the blood that I am certain no one noticed as she was walking to the room. Nanae comes into the bathroom to use the toilet and asks if her husband is truly dead. Rei says yes. She killed him. She says that she also lost her virginity at 29 years old. Um…well…erm…that line was from the original manga by Nakamura Ching, so I guess that it had to be included.

Anyways, Nanae takes off her clothes and gets in the tub. After a bit of awkwardness, Rei breaks down and hugs Nanae. This time, Nanae doesn’t back away. She does ask what’s wrong. Rei says that she almost died. Nanae says that if her husband and Rei had killed each other, then that would have been the end. Nanae thinks that this will provoke Rei into anger, but Rei just apologizes…for…surviving? She wonders what they will call her. A homewrecker who was jealous of his wife? Or the lesbian fool who was jealous of her crush’s husband? Rei says that Nanae smiles when she lies, but she looks so cute when she does. Rei’s entire life crumbles because of that smile.

And now the police are on the case.

Nanae and Rei have been driving all night and now it is day. At some point, Rei says that she had considered splashing the apartment with gasoline and burning it all down. Nanae asks why she didn’t do that. Possible collateral damage? Nope; Rei thought that Nanae would get lonely without a home. Nanae says that never had a home in the first place. She got beat up for just existing, first by her father and then by her husband.

Speaking of Nanae’s father, the two go to see him at the hospital. Alcoholism had led to a stroke, leaving him in a coma for years. Nanae had wanted to let him die, but he was kept alive for her husband’s good image. So, Nanae puts her wedding ring on the little table on the bed’s end and says no more. I am not sure whether that means that she will tell the doctors to pull the plug or not tell the doctors to keep him plugged in. In any case, her father is going to die. She says goodbye to him and they leave to get something to eat.

The two go to a burger place where they both realize that they don’t have that much cash on them. Apparently, Nanae’s storyline in her head was that she went on a trip and came back to find that a burglar had killed her husband. I guess that she did not tell Rei about that. And I guess that going on the run with minimal cash was not part of that plan either. They still pay for their meals though.

The two park under a bridge to eat their meal and…discuss how to kill themselves? Maybe…jokingly? Erm…well…Rei says that she killed someone trying to save Nanae, so then why is Nanae talking about suicide? Nanae wonders if there is any future for her if she is alive. And then she doodles on the bag from the burger place, making a kind of maze where all of the paths lead to a dead end. They both laugh at it. Then Rei suggests that they go to Nanae’s parents’ home. Nanae doesn’t understand, but Rei reasons that she met Nanae’s husband, met her father, and saw where she has lived up to this point. But she wants to know more about her. Wait. She never went to visit Nanae back when they knew each other before?

So, Nanae drives to her old house. It’s…uh…cozy. Rei seems to enjoy walking around this quaint little place. Nanae not so much. She tells Rei that she lived here until she was 18. Her mother had abandoned her and her father for another man. With his wife to beat, Nanae’s father beat her instead. Nanae admits that, as Rei had once said, she had to sell her body to live. And she chose the person willing to buy her at the highest price when she was worth the most. Now, she has used up 29 years’ worth of luck, self-esteem, and rights. All she has is Rei. Rei laughs. Nanae doesn’t get why Rei is so happy, instead of angry. Nanae goes out for a smoke. So, Rei looks at Nanae’s high school hurdle trophies.

Flashback to high school. Nanae is a track jock and Rei is a lonely art kid, making drawings of Nanae running. The girls noticed Rei watching, and warn Nanae to be careful of her.

Rei goes to see Mika…wait. They had been together this long? And when Rei was still in high school? Oooo…well…anyways. Rei brings a bag of chocolate. Mika is less thankful than she is concerned over whether Rei can afford such expensive chocolates. She theorizes that Rei’s high schooler allowance is higher than her salary. Mika then says that she wishes that she were Rei’s true love. Rei seems confused, but then resists when Mika tries to kiss her, going to the bathroom. Mika walks to the door and tells her, once again, to forget about that straight girl; sooner or later, that girl will be sucking some guy. Rei acknowledges that, but…but…but nothing.

Nanae and a friend are leaving school when they see Rei waiting. Waiting for Nanae? Nanae seems to think so, so she says farewell to her friend, meets with Rei, and offers to walk home with her. Rei notes that Nanae is always practicing, and Nanae says that she is aiming for the top three at the Inter-High.

Nanae goes to buy some spiked shoes, so they say goodbye outside of the store. Rei is walking away until she looks into the store and sees Nanae putting some shoes into her schoolbag. A couple of employees notice and give chase, with Rei following behind. The two eventually catch up with Nanae and tackle her to the ground. They try to get into her bag, but Rei comes up and shoves a wad of cash in their faces. Surely, this should cover the shoes, right? One of the employees claims that the money is not the issue, but they don’t try to pursue when Rei picks up Nanae and helps her limp away.

Some days later, Rei approaches Nanae, who has to walk on crutches. She has heard that Nanae is quitting school. Nanae says that she only got to where she was through the sports scholarship. Rei asks if she cannot just start again when she recovers. Nanae retorts that she is too poor to buy the spiked shoes or get proper rehab for her leg. Most embarrassing was that a rich girl like Rei had to see her like that. Rei asks what Nanae will do now. Probably live somewhere that Rei will never go.

Nanae is done talking, and gets up to leave. Then Rei offers to pay for the rest of Nanae’s time in high school. What is that? 2 million yen? 3? After all, what is the difference in Nanae selling herself to a man and selling herself to Rei? Who do you think you are, asks Nanae. A rich girl, says Rei. What do you want? Rei says that she is willing to wait five years. And if Nanae cannot pay her back by then…then she must let Rei have sex with her. JESUS! I was not expecting that. Nanae starts to walk away, but Rei follows her. Yeah, she knows that Nanae would hate that. Well, then go work in a proper company and marry some rich guy. Nanae walks away again and Rei stops following her.

So…that was their past. Now what is their future?




 

 

 

This movie is an adaptation of the manga series Gunjō, or Ultramarine, written by Nakamura Ching between 2007 and 2009…and then between 2010 and 2012. I am not sure why it was called Ultramarine, but I guess that Ride or Die only kind of makes sense in terms of the story. The movie’s Japanese title is Kanojo, which means She or Girlfriend or something.  

The manga series was around 1500 pages long. So, perhaps someone could compare turning that into a 143-minute movie to adapting AKIRA. And, yeah, there were complaints. I mean, Netflix has a 13-hour series about a creepy Japanese pornographer, but this story doesn’t get even a fifth of that runtime? I get it to an extent. I am not sure how many…erm…serious manga centering LGBTQ characters there had been in 2007, but this series seems to have had a devoted following. So, reducing that to a single film and having it directed by a guy who used to be a porn director? A movie that is almost all long takes and shot-reverse shot close-ups on faces? And so much nudity?

I can sort of agree with some of the complaints by fans of the manga. It flattens the characters, tones down the ”complexity” of their relationships, favors romanticism over darkness, and has made some odd choices over what sequences to include. That the film is 143-minutes long is not because it crammed in a bunch of the storyline. In fact, there is a lot of drawn-out sequences that could have theoretically been edited down. For example, there is that opening 4-minute shot of Rei walking through the club. Then there is a scene late in the movie where the characters sing along to a song on the radio. Or this 100-second shot of them driving over a bridge.

Yeah, I would probably be upset with the movie had I read the manga first. But, I didn’t. Instead, I kind of sped-read through it shortly after watching the film the first time. So, while the movie did cut out several parts of the storyline (such as that woman who killed her own child), I got more of an impression that the movie streamlined several things. So, instead of one aspect being brought up twenty times, maybe just one or two. And certain storylines that went on and on were severely shortened. I do agree that the movie probably did not need ten minutes with that taxi driver. Also, I am not sure about the decisions to change how young Nanae got her injury (her father beat her mercilessly) or the ending of the story.  

I think that I like the movie because of some of the things that the people disliked about it. Yes, the movie toned down the “complexity” of the relationship, but it did not completely do away with the dysfunctional foundation. Instead, it favored framing it in self-aware fatalism rather than resentment and self-loathing.

The same goes for the run from the law. Perhaps the movie is loose and extended instead of tense and tight because it wants to dwell on the moments of freedom. The characters are under few illusions that they will get away. There is no Mexico to drive to; at best, they could maybe slip on a boat bound for South Korea, but they don’t even consider that. So, they casually discuss either getting arrested or killing themselves. It seems to be a way to sanitize the inevitability of their fate, to feel some level control over it, maybe make it seem not so bad. Eventually, the end will come, but they just have things that they need to do first. To open up to each other, to reveal their true selves, and to come to terms with their fragile past before plunging into the dark future. And if Rei can get sex out of Nanae beforehand, then all the better. Perhaps they can direct their end and embrace it on their own terms instead of on other people’s terms. If only they can agree on what their own terms are.

For now, the two try to enjoy the little bit of freedom that they have left, and perhaps also the only bit of true happiness that they have felt in a while. That is the reason for all of the long takes where there is little change in action. It is living in the moment for as long as that moment lasts. This movie takes the messy ugly anger of the manga and makes a bittersweet elegiac romance out of it. The quintessential Japanese style. I can understand why fans of the manga may dislike that. I like it.  

Even with the edges smoothed out, the movie still at least acknowledges some of it. It is unclear when Rei and Mika first got together, but maybe Mika was the only lesbian whom Rei knew, and she was safe. So, Rei stayed for over a decade. Did Rei love her, though? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It is revealed later on that Rei never introduced Mika to her parents. Not when she was underage. Never. Apparently, she even roped a boy (her brother’s girlfriend’s brother in the manga) into acting as her boyfriend to make her dying mother happy. That probably bothered Mika, who has been very open about her sexual orientation to her parents, or at least to her mother.

It is revealed later in the movie that Rei and Nanae first met at school the day that Nanae’s mother abandoned the family. So, young Rei knew young Nanae only on her downward trajectory. She may have not known all that time that Nanae’s father beat her, but she never knew a Nanae who had not experienced getting beaten. Would Rei have been attracted to Nanae had she first met her when she was actually happy instead of putting up a front? Or was she attracted to Nanae’s loneliness? After all, Nanae may have had friends on the track, but I doubt that she confided in them about her home life either. Perhaps she was drawn to someone whom she saw as being as sad as she was.

Rei may have been with Mika, but she grew infatuated with Nanae. And everyone seemed to know it or at least sense it. Though Nanae had been warned about Rei, she tolerated Rei’s behavior. However, she was not entirely comfortable. Rei was not exactly a stalker, but she could be a little creepy at times. After all, their first interaction involved Rei asking a recently motherless Nanae to smile. And perhaps Rei could sense that Nanae did not quite appreciate her attempts to get close. But Rei was nice, Rei was attractive, Rei was rich. What was wrong with her? Oh…that…of course. Perhaps Nanae would have been more receptive if Rei were a boy. Rei probably knew that she should move on, but she could not help herself.

I do not remember if it was spelled out more in the manga, but I feel like Nanae resented Rei’s attention, not just because of the lesbian aspect, but also because Rei was wealthy. I cannot say whether Nanae would have still stolen those spike shoes had Rei not been walking with her. Or had Rei been a rich boy who was willing to pay for those shoes. As it was, Nanae seemed to treat Rei paying for the shoes as using her wealth as a tool of control. And Rei could sense that too. That could be part of the reason why she acted so hostile towards Nanae when giving her the money. Rei could save Nanae’s life, but Nanae would not accept her. So, Rei imposed upon Nanae a creepy deal: I will pay for your schooling and you either pay me back in five year or we have sex. Whatever one’s sexual orientation, that is a sketchy deal at best.

I suppose that Nanae could have theoretically just rejected the money, left school, and waited out her father until he died. Would she have avoided making the transition from being the daughter of an abusive father to the wife of an abusive husband? I cannot say, but one could argue that this hypothetical other husband would not have been rich enough to keep her trapped or track her down if she tried to flee like her mother had done. But not only did Nanae take the money, she got with the wealthiest man whom she could get with simply to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. And…well, I cannot say whether young Rei would have treated Nanae better than that man did, but that man was terrrrrible. And, in an indirect but conscious way, Rei did kind of push her into that situation. Whether that is a fair take, they both may feel that way.

As much as Nanae may not have wanted to deal with Rei again, she was driven to desperation and she was banking that Rei still held feelings for her. And Nanae was right. Rei may have held her money over Nanae, but now Nanae could do the same regarding Rei’s irrational feelings towards her. Rei knows this about herself, but cannot help it. So, she abandons her girlfriend of over a decade, kills a man whom she doesn’t know, and destroys her own future, all for a woman who would never love her. Because she loves her.

And what could be more romantic than that?

 

 

 

WTF ASIA 219: Platform (China: 2000, approx. 155 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in Canadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

 

WTF ASIA 220: Alive (South Korea: 2014, approx. 166 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in Canadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.