Ride or Die is overlong, fails to believably sell its central relationship, and ill-advisedly resolves with a bit male gaze exploitation.
Whatever the many other faults of Ryuichi Hiroki’s latest feature Ride or Die, it certainly can’t be accused of not practicing truth in advertising, at least as far as the title goes. There’s some dying at the beginning, of the very graphic, bloody sort, and it’s this dying that drives — to the extent that it’s driven — the plot of this meandering film. But there’s also riding, lots and lots of riding done by the female fugitive couple at the center, all soundtracked by tunes from Norah Jones, The Cardigans, and YUI, among others. All this riding results in a film with a prodigious runtime of 142 minutes, a length that complicates its neo-noir scenario, but unfortunately also highlights the numerous flaws in its execution.
But back to the dying, which comes at the hands of Rei (Kiko Mizuhara), a woman who, in the culmination of a long-take sequence aping the Copacabana scene from Goodfellas, lures a married businessman she meets in a bar back to his house for sex. After telling him, “Give me your wife,” Rei slashes the man’s neck with a concealed knife, releasing the sort of blood geyser you only see in the movies. The film then backtracks to one day earlier in order to explain that this was no random encounter. Rei gets a call from Nanae (Honami Sato), an old friend she hasn’t seen for ten years. Actually, Rei had regarded Nanae as more than a friend; as a lesbian, Rei had unrequited romantic feelings for Nanae, who’s straight and married. When they meet at Nanae’s house, Nanae strips to reveal that her husband regularly beats her, leaving ugly bruises all over her body. Through dramatic sobs, Nanae asks Rei to kill her husband. Despite their long estrangement, and the fact that Rei now has a girlfriend, she still readily agrees. By then, we’ve already seen the results of that agreement.
This points to the film’s main flaw; even though Rei has proved herself to be a truly ride-or-die friend, to the point of committing murder, her motivations for doing so fail to convince. It’s also clearly the first time Rei has ever killed someone; she’s visible on lots of surveillance cameras and has left fingerprints all over the messy crime scene. (Another unbelievable aspect of the film is how very long it takes for the police to catch up to them; in fact, the police pursuit barely even figures here.) Even though there’s plenty of histrionic arguing between them across the film’s distended runtime, there’s never a strong enough sense of any connection between Rei and Nanae that would seem to justify their going on the run, like a Japanese riff on Thelma and Louise.
Hiroki has a track record of featuring strongly and sensitively drawn female characters in such films as Vibrator, It’s Only Talk, and Side Job, but in Ride or Die, these instincts unfortunately elude him. The whole film seems to be leading up to Rei and Nanae’s sexual consummation of their relationship, which totally smacks of male gaze exploitation. An overwhelming number of Letterboxd logs for Ride of Die strongly opine that straight men probably shouldn’t be making films about lesbians, and while it’s not hard to reject the absolutism of such sentiments, after sitting through this very long, tedious, and flawed film, it’s also not hard to admit that these reviewers make a very strong case.
You can currently stream Ryuichi Hiroki’s Ride or Die on Netflix.