There are two ways in which sapphic stories are portrayed on screen. A lot goes into these categories, mind you, but let’s simplify them: good sapphic films and bad sapphic films. Ride or Die somehow straddles the line, but it tips over to undesirable at best and downright problematic at worst.
Adapted from Gunjou, a manga written by Chin Nakamura, Ride or Die is a Japanese film directed by Ryuichi Hiroki. It tells the story of Rei (Kiko Mizuhara), a lesbian that commits murder for her long-time heterosexual crush Nanae (Honami Sato). The pair escape from the bright lights of Tokyo and the authorities a la Bonnie and Clyde, but their story isn’t quite the whirlwind romance. One might argue that there’s hardly any romance at all, which could be upsetting given how the trailer led us to believe the opposite.
Of course, for people who’ve already read the manga, it comes as no surprise that Rei and Nanae’s relationship isn’t exactly romantic. However, for people who picked up this film hoping to enjoy some lesbian lovers murdering abusers and running away together, they could end up disappointed.
Both Rei and Nanae’s characters feel barely there—an amalgamation of tropes we’ve seen before. Despite how much they try projecting complexity, they instead appear like a couple of manic pixie dream girls when they’re supposedly not. There’s potential there that was inhibited by the direction and the script itself, not to mention the limited time a feature-length on Netflix can allow. Although, for how long it ran (2 hours and 20-something minutes), it still somehow managed to fall short, which is a pity because we could have seen so much more from the lead actors.
Was this film good? Its cinematography was good. Its acting was good. Even its soundtrack has potential. But watching a woman’s queerness be displayed and propped up the way it was in this film—the language used by the writers (“I wish I had a dick.” / “I lost my virginity after 29 years.”), the questionable sex scenes (why did Rei, who is a lesbian, have to have sex with two men on two separate occasions?)—was gross.
Ride or Die had the potential to be great and its premise was interesting, which makes it all the more upsetting. They could have done a lot more and developed the script further, giving it the depth it tried to have. But very important things got lost in translation when they took the source material and converted it for the screen. Though, the film did have some genuinely heartwarming moments in the film that made sure you still rooted for the main characters. Furthermore, seeing Rei’s struggle as a young lesbian growing up in a considerably conservative culture was quite interesting and mirrors the struggles of many queer women who grew up in the same kind of environment.
Watch it for Kiko Mizuhara in her best acting performance yet and the pretty cinematography. If you could overlook the male gaze-yness, the flimsy writing, and the weird pace, you might actually enjoy it! But if you want more from these characters, reading the original manga might be better for you.
Ride or Die is streaming on Netflix