Story: Mikoto (Riko Fujitani) works as a waitress at a traditional hostel in the peaceful town Kibune. After a short break standing by the river that runs behind the hostel, she and her superior (Munenori Nagano) return to their guests. There's the writer who has accompanied his editor and doesn't know how his story will continue, and two friends who have met up again after a long time. And there is also a chef from the restaurant across the street, who is taking a nap in one of the rooms at the moment. When Mikoto finished clearing the table in one of the rooms, she suddenly finds herself by the river again. She is surprised at first, but then feels as if she was just having a déjà vu when she clears the same table with her supervisor again. However, he feels the same way and both still remember exactly what they said to each other shortly before. In the next moment, Mikoto is suddenly back at the river again. Gradually, the guests also come running to her and her colleagues in panic because they are experiencing similar things. It seems as if everyone is trapped in a two-minute time loop. One of the chefs from the restaurant, who knows a thing or two about the topic “time”, explains the circumstances, how to behave, and that they should not panic. He promises to find a solution. At first, the staff and guests of the hostel have nothing else to do but to talk about things close to their hearts within the two minutes. And soon the culprit for the time loop seems to be found...
Review: I have to admit, when it comes to time loops, it’s pretty easy to catch my attention. There are so many ways to weave an interesting story out of this premise, and the mystery of what led to the loop alone manages to arouse curiosity and create suspense. And when I heard that the time loop in "River" is only two minutes long, I thought that this obvious limitation of what can be done in that time span was actually a great opportunity to be innovative. But the two-minute time frame sounded pretty familiar to me too. And that's no coincidence, because this is actually the latest work of director Junta Yamaguchi, whose "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" was a great international success, despite being a low-budget production. Even though he clearly had more money at his disposal for "River", that's not the real reason I like "River" even better. The different characters are simply more colorful here which makes the movie more accessible.
The first thing you might want to mention is that "River" is a lot more appealing when it comes to visuals. Once more, the camera follows the different characters at every turn - a necessity if you want to create an authentic feeling of two minutes -, which means we get some shaky camera work here too. But since a higher quality equipment is used this time, this is never a negative thing. In addition, the sets are wonderfully chosen. The peaceful town of Kibune with its gurgling river (or rather stream) immediately invites you to a relaxing weekend where you can simply enjoy nature and tranquility. Moreover, there is the special touch that is given to the place as soon as everything is covered in snow. If, after a restart of the two minutes, there is suddenly snow everywhere or it’s starting to snow, the characters acknowledge this fact with a confused comment, but otherwise we don't get an explanation for it. What would certainly have caused at least a frown in other movies, here seamlessly fits into the humor of this genre mix. And at some point we know the hostel itself and its winding corridors through which Mikoto has to hurry again and again like the back of our hand too, which creates a feeling of pleasant familiarity.
What is particularly fascinating is that the two-minute intervals never get boring. Mikoto always starts at the river, but since not only she, but also everyone else in the place keeps their memories, the movie can tell a completely different story than other representatives of this subgenre. There are constantly interactions with other/new characters too, so that we gradually get to know the entire staff and all the guests. At first, the special appeal is to hear their individual stories, such as that of the author, who is stressed by his deadline and can now finally catch his breath a little. At other times, the humor is in the foreground, for example when the editor repeatedly runs through the hostel dressed only in a towel, because at the beginning of the time loop, he always finds himself in the bathroom with shampoo on his head. It's scenes like these and the great rhythm that comes from shooting the two minutes without any cuts (a few times there's a bit of trickery) that gives "River" a natural, fast-paced flow, so that there is never any boredom.
As soon as you're convinced that you're dealing with a sci-fi comedy, the story also introduces a romance that may actually be the reason for all the chaos. Since this only comes into focus after a good half of the 86 minutes of running time, it seems a bit like an artificial addition. However, this turns out to be wrong as the romance factor actually fits well into the rest of the movie and also because it is dealt with subtly. A big praise goes to Riko Fujitani, who, with her energetic and likable manner, represents both the movie’s driving force and a calm anchor when the other characters are screaming at each other or panicking. With the large number of characters, the rest of the actors can only show the bare minimum of themselves, but everyone is having fun, so that the characters all grow on you over time and seem more three-dimensional than they should. Furthermore, each person has to carry their own weight, their individual problems that gradually come to light, which also contributes to the fact that they seem very human.
Even though the scenes’ quick dynamic and the great humor sometimes make you forget about it, the movie actually deals with pretty serious topics. Since the situation obviously has to gnaw at your psyche, there are also one or two suicides and even murders, while it is never clear if or when the time loop might end, so that you have to live with the consequences. This also creates a nice level of suspense. And just when you think you've found the solution, there's another twist. All this is extremely satisfying and because so much happens, you are also thankful that the movie is not exceptionally long, because otherwise your head would start spinning at some point. "River" feels a lot more polished than "Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes" and it is even a good bit more fun, which is partly due to the likeable characters. "River" can therefore be recommended not only to genre friends, but simply to everyone. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the movie will not experience as much hype as the director's previous work did, even though it deserves it. But that's just the way it goes. In any case, we certainly wait with great anticipation to see what kind of twist Junta Yamaguchi incorporates into the premise of his next time travel adventure!