Ride or Die
Drama, Romance, 2h 22min
Synopsis: A tale of two women – one who kills for a love, and the other who made her kill. This road movie depicts their aimless escape of these two women and the chaotic journey that will surprisingly bring them closer to each other.
A struggle to identify one’s own desires, to have them heard and met, whilst at the same time making room for the other’s
After ten years without speaking to each other, Rei (Kiko Mizhuara) gets a call from an old friend, Nanae (Honami Sato). She wants to meet. Despite Rei’s drunk girlfriend waiting in the bathroom to celebrate her 34th birthday, Rei accepts to see Nanae. What initially appears to be a romantic encounter turns out to be a painful confession: covered in bruises, Nanae explains how her husband (Shinya Niiro) has been beating her for years and that she is now at breaking point. Either he dies or she dies, she says bluntly. Which is where Rei comes in. Without batting an eyelid, Rei offers to kill him, thus initiating their escape and the overarching storyline of Ryuichi Hiroki’s Ride or Die.
What on paper seems like it could be a pretty straightforward film is in fact perhaps one of the most complex ones I have seen in a while. It is not simply a meeting of two different worlds (Rei is more or less openly lesbian, Nanae is married to a man; Rei is rich, Nanae is poor), but rather the interweaving of these two worlds and the subsequent naïve search for a simplicity where they can “start from scratch.” It’s a struggle to identify one’s own desires, to have them heard and met, whilst at the same time making room for the other’s. There is a palpable tension between the two protagonists that initially seems to be sexual, or even a result of their class differences, but which evolves into something much more complex that transcends the emotional and the physical aspects of their relationship. As the intricacies of their love evolve throughout the film, the quixotic blank slate that they seek seems to move further away, until at last they have no choice but to look inwards and be honest with themselves. Despite the simple ultimatum outlined in the title, Ride or Die, it’s a film that negates straightforward and binary choices in love.
Using a bright yet blue-tinged palette to reflect a distorted picture-perfect love, Ride or Die plays a lot with the idea of an ideal relationship, whereby both parties feel safe and on equal footing. As well as making a point about the vestiges of a homophobic past in Japan, there is definitely a message there about the transactional value of women’s bodies, and their resultant commodification, in this society. “I had to sell my body to live,” Nanae explains. “That’s why I chose the person willing to buy me at the highest price.” And yet it is Rei who is accused of being a prostitute, who on two occasions is offered money in exchange for sex. Having had to navigate these kind of gendered structures, it is no surprise that Rei and Nanae struggle to find an easy way to express their love. Remember, Rei killed Nanae’s husband and even then, she was barred from Nanae’s interiority.
However, despite the intriguing plot and characterization, like many big-screen lesbian films, Ride or Die replicates some stereotypes that it frankly could have done without. For starters, the protagonists’ struggle to come out to their families feels a bit overplayed, especially if someone like Rei already seems to be pretty sure of their sexuality from a young age. Secondly, Rei’s constant reminders that she is a “rich girl,” have echoes of Todd Haynes’ Carol, only here it feel a bit grating and doesn’t really add to the character’s mystique as it does with Cate Blanchett’s character. Given that Hiroki does a great job in contrasting the two women’s financial positions, these little tokens in the dialogue seem unnecessary.
Finally, many have accused the film of being homophobic because of two comments that suggest sex is incomplete when there’s no penis. These are old-fashioned and limiting concepts of sexuality that just don’t sit well with a lesbian film. I’ve said it in another article, I have no interest in cancel culture, which is why I think these comments require a little more attention.
Firstly, I think it’s important to step outside our Western perspectives for a moment and remember that, despite the many aspects in which Japan is “ahead” of us (I’ve always been skeptical of these linear depictions of progress…), Japan is a society that is still making room for women’s voices, particularly homosexual women. Although many Western feminists seem to think they know exactly what other cultures need to reach universal equality, the reality is that each society needs to figure out how best to do it from within. And this process is messy. We can often get it wrong. Take for instance the rejection of bisexuals during the 2nd wave feminist movement in the West (both by heterosexual feminists and lesbian feminists!). Eventually we overcame this and reshaped the space from which we enunciate our demands to include bisexual women. Progress is not linear.
Which is why this film is so important. As outlined before, Ride or Die, more than a film about escaping the law, is about the exploration of two women’s desires outside of a traditional heteronormative frame. These comments on the “limitations” of lesbian sex reflect just how difficult it is to step outside this frame when you’ve been stuck inside it for so long. By no means do I think it’s justifiable, but when taken into account with the rest of the film’s themes and the characterization of the two protagonists, it makes sense that there would be an internalization of a still present homophobia.
Aside from these points, Ride or Die is a film that will suck you in and not let you go until the very last minute. I only mention these sticking points because they are reminders of the work that Lesflicks engages in, which is in part giving a platform to the multifaceted LGBTQ experiences so that we the audience are not stuck seeing the same ten coming-out films.
Watch the trailer
This article was written by:
Isidora has written for various student papers, offering articles from film reviews to opinion pieces that often had Latin American cultural events or productions as the focus of the piece.
She has just graduated from her MPhil in Comparative Literatures from the University of Cambridge, and will be going on to do her PhD in Hispanic Studies in Toronto.