Ride or Die review – bloody revenge and blossoming love in shocking Japanese thriller

Phuong Le
·2 min read

The prolific director Ryūichi Hiroki has carved out a niche in modern Japanese cinema with his willingness to delve into the darker sides of sexuality. Following a start in the softcore “pink” films, He has moved to the mainstream while exploring subjects such as sadomasochism. Ride or Die, a live-action adaptation of Ching Nakamura’s arresting but disquieting manga series Gunjō, fits perfectly in the director’s transgressive wheelhouse.

The moods of Ride or Die alternate between neon-lit cityscapes and sun-drenched open roads. The opening is shockingly baptised in blood: Rei (Kiko Mizuhara), a twentysomething lesbian, has slashed a man to death in his own home. It is later revealed that her victim is the abusive husband of Nanae (Honami Sato), a high-school classmate for whom Rei has held a torch for a decade. In perhaps the most destructive possible declaration of love, Rei has killed for Nanae, and together they embark on a getaway that doubles as a journey to their past. The bloodshed carries a poetic power: the life of a (bad) man is taken, only for the two women to see themselves reborn.

Ride or Die is well-made and engrossing, despite its occasionally meandering pace. Texas-born Mizuhara, currently Japan’s most celebrated It girl, is hugely charismatic on screen. It is a pity that the film has damped down the pitch-black humour and sense of apathy found in its source material; the two women are designed to be much more obviously likable, their rough edges softened and the toxicity in their relationship diluted. The conspicuous use of easy listening tunes on the soundtrack doesn’t help, either.

In the end though, Ride or Die boasts strong performances, and its beautiful cinematography takes viewers from metropolitan restlessness to the liberating seaside.

• Ride or Die is available on Netflix.