Murder, sex and lesbian love engulf the Japanese thriller, “Ride or Die,” debuting on Netflix and directed by Ryuichi Hiroki. Based on the yuri manga, graphic novels that depict same-sex relationships, Gunjo by Nakamura Ching, the film shows human nature in its messiest form.
Be warned: the film has explicit scenes of domestic violence.
It opens as Rei, played by Kiko Mizuhara, dawns black clothing and sky high stilettos, as she targets a lonely man at the bar. She then carries out the stranger's death in femme fatale fashion, after a night of seduction.
After 10 years, Rei and Nanae, played by Honami Sato, reunite — reigniting Rei’s love for Nanae, going farther than the schoolgirl crush she had felt as a child.
It is later exposed that the man at the bar was Nanae’s abusive husband and Rei’s only goal was to free her loved one. Nanae is covered in bruises caused by her husband.
Nanae then asks for a favor — could Rei kill the man that has caused her pain? Rei obliged but when she is caught in the act Nanae initiates a plan to help Rei escape.
It quickly becomes clear that Rei has a deep love for Nanae, shooting quick glances in her direction that are often accompanied by a sweet sparkle in Rei’s eyes. Through these moments, it appears as though Nanae is toying with Rei’s emotions, taunting her with affection but never fully requiting Rei’s romantic love.
Despite the obvious crimes committed in the first half of the film, it is endearing to see the women’s relationship blossom. Hiroki purposely tries to make viewers forget the murder, even going so far as to play upbeat music as the women ride in a cherry red corvette to signify the independence Rei and Nanae feel on the road.
The fugitive journey serves as a way for the women to learn more about each other, as they visit their childhood homes and share secrets of their past. Flashbacks of their encounters as children are also weaved into the film, allowing viewers to better understand the women.
Still, Nanae’s feelings for Rei are unclear throughout the film, leaving viewers to question her intentions. Where Rei puts her emotions on full display, Nanae is more reserved.
Though the women’s alliance is sweet to watch, it does not go unnoticed that a man directed the movie, as most scenes that involve nudity, heavily rely on the male gaze. The male gaze, developed by film critic Laura Mulvey, describes “the cinematic angle of a heterosexual male on a female character,” according to Psychology Today.
Watching as a woman showers or goes to the bathroom makes the viewer participate in the director’s voyeurism, not to mention how useless to the plot these kinds of scenes are. Although sometimes it is necessary, such as when Rei is cleansing her body of the man’s blood as she vocally affirms her participation of the murder in between sobs, it is soon terminated when it falls right back into the male gaze as Nanae undresses.
Sadly, many films that attempt to represent lesbian love, fall into this trap. It is no longer a story about two people who fall in love but rather an imitation of erotica, similar to “Blue Is the Warmest Colour,” a French film released in 2013 and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.
Rei’s downfall is portrayed well while the viewers go from seeing her as a successful plastic surgeon to a criminal on the run. Nanae on the other hand maintains her composure even in her worst moments. This juxtaposition makes it frustrating to watch because it appears that the traumatic events do not weigh on the women the same.
The sentiments soon change after a physical altercation between the two, where they blame each other. That seems to be the entire arc of the characters — blaming other people for their own actions, leading them into terrible situations, making it evident that nobody in the film is worth rooting for. Although that could work to the film’s advantage, showing viewers that despite its basis in fiction, in reality no one is free of flaws.
Composed of wide and long shots mixed with a saturation of warm hues, “Ride or Die” is aesthetically beautiful, indicative of Netflix’s production value. Sentimental yet aggravating, “Ride or Die” places viewers in the backseat of Rei and Nanae’s journey to a foggy future, making the film a good pass time for the critical eye.