Nanae (Honami Satô) is trapped in an abusive marriage with a man, and as his violence escalates, she becomes convinced that one of these days, her husband will just kill her. Despite the two having a complicated past, Nanae calls an old classmate Rei (Kiko Mizuhara) for help, and despite Rei dating another woman, she drops everything when she hears Nanae’s voice. Rei still harbors a high school crush (i.e. unhealthy infatuation) for Nanae, so when Nanae, desperate and bruised, suggests that Rei kill her husband, Rei accepts. (Don’t make my mistake of sitting down with a plate of food to start this film—it dives right into the gore).
What follows is the bulk of Ride or Die, an absolutely batshit crazy and unpredictable Japanese drama about Nanae and Rei on the run, based on Ching Nakamura’s manga series Gunjō. On paper, it’s a “lovers escape the law” story. In reality, the film Ride or Die is a too-complicated nonlinear character study about manipulation and sex and suicide that does little more than push the “crazy lesbian murderer” trope. (“What’s something that is queer but feels homophobic?” Ride or Die.) Nanae and Rei are neither lovers nor friends, floating somewhere in between with a frustratingly hot and cold obsession, and even with flashbacks to their youth, the characters don’t go any deeper than the traumas they carry. Audiences get whiplash as Nanae and Rei argue one moment and share tenderness the next, fight for each other one moment and cavalierly suggest they kill themselves the next. Satô and Mizuhara give strikingly raw performances, and the cinematography is brilliant, but as a whole, the movie is too long and driven by characters so off the rails that no part of me could relate to them or even root for them. In Japanese with subtitles.