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River's Edge

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
River's Edge Movie Poster Image
Gratuitous sex and violence in Japanese teen drama.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 

Violence

(Warning: Some spoilers.) Suicide: one of the characters falls to her death from the upper level of an apartment building; she's also on fire. Bullying: one of the lead characters is first shown tied up and gagged in a locker wearing only his underwear. Bullies punch him in the face repeatedly, then order him to strip in another scene. This lead character is frequently shown with bruises and bandages all over his face. Male character punches female character in the faced repeatedly, then chokes her until he believes she's dead. One of the characters shows another character a plastic bag filled with dead kittens (not shown). A teen girl who is a model struggles with bulimia, is shown eating food in the school bathroom stall, then heard choking and vomiting.

Sex

Extended sex scenes, extremely graphic. In one extended scene, a teen boy and girl have sex in various positions; the boy uses a spray can of mousse to penetrate her orifices at one point, and later ties her up and chokes her before there is a quick shot of ejaculate landing on her midsection. Oral sex scene -- teen girl shown engaging in the act with a teen boy. While the act itself isn't explicitly shown, it's explicitly heard. Teen boy shown on the verge of engaging in oral sex with an older man. Teen boy shown holding a used condom, contemplating it, then dropping it on the bed. Teen girl shown having sex with a much older married man. When she believes she's pregnant, the teen girl makes a list of all the boys and men she has slept with recently and whether or not a condom was used. Talk of an older woman in the neighborhood who is rumored to have slept with many teen boys in a nearby school. When a teen girl asks her gay teen male friend how he prefers to have sex, he counters with graphic questions concerning how she engages in oral sex. 

Language

"F--k" appears in graffiti form all over the walls of an abandoned school building slated for destruction. "A--hole," "dumbass," "s--t," "crap." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cocaine use among teens. Cigarette smoking. Wine drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that River's Edge (not to be confused with the controversial 1986 teen movie) is a 2018 Japanese drama about disaffected teens in a Tokyo suburb in the 1990s. The movie has extremely graphic depictions of sex, including an extended sex scene in which two teens engage in various sexual positions, and the teen boy penetrates the teen girl's orifices with a spray can, and later ties her up and chokes her; the scene concludes with a brief shot of the boy's ejaculate spraying next to the girl's navel. Graphic depictions of oral sex. Teen boy shown on the verge of having oral sex with an older man. Teen girl shown having sex with an older married man. When one of the lead characters thinks she may be pregnant, she makes a lengthy list of all the men and boys she has slept with, and whether or not she practiced safe sex with them. The movie also features graphic violence between teens. A teen girl is punched repeatedly and choked nearly to death by a teen boy she has sex with. A teen boy is horrifically bullied, including a scene in which he's found tied up and gagged wearing only his underwear in a locker inside an abandoned school building slated for demolition. This character is almost always shown with bruises and bandages on his face. One of the characters commits suicide by setting themselves on fire and jumping off the ledge of a tall building. A teen girl shows her friend a plastic bag filled with dead kittens -- not shown, but earlier scenes show two of the characters bonding with and taking care of these kittens found in a box next to the school dumpster. A girl stabs her sister repeatedly in the chest, almost killing her. A teen girl who is a model struggles with bulimia, is shown eating food in the school bathroom stall, then heard choking and vomiting. Cocaine use by teens. Cigarette smoking. Adults of any kind are almost entirely nonexistent throughout the movie as all of this happens. Profanity, including "f--k." This is based on a cult teen manga from 1994. 

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What's the story?

In RIVER'S EDGE, Yamada is a secretly gay teenage boy living in a Tokyo suburb in the 1990s. He hides his sexual orientation by casually dating Tajima, a lovestruck younger girl. He's also the frequent target of bullies like Kannonzaki, who dates Haruni while having sex with her promiscuous friend Rumi on the side. Haruni is intrigued by Yamada's mysterious aura, and befriends him. Yamada begins to reveal his secrets -- not only that he's gay, but that he knows where there's a decaying corpse in the reeds by the river. Meanwhile, Kannonzaki's violent impulses and sexual obsessions begin to grow even darker, and Rumi fears that she may be pregnant. Meanwhile, a younger model in the school where they all attend struggles with bulimia and begins to have stronger feelings for Haruni after they are introduced by Yamada. These characters try to make sense of their lives while struggling with very difficult problems. 

Is it any good?

As a "period piece" based on a '90s manga, this makes '90s teen movies that explored similar themes such as Gummo and Kids look like Barney & Friends. Whether or not one thinks that's a good thing ultimately determines how much one will enjoy this movie. Nonetheless, what might work in a graphic (in both senses of the word) novel can easily appear gratuitous, excessive, and self-indulgent if adapted into movie form, and herein lies the problem. There are moments when River's Edge is all three of these things, and by this point, whatever shock value that drove similar tales of "lost teen innocence" in the 1980s and 1990s now seem like belabored points. 

The almost-nonexistent adult presence makes the whole thing come off like a kind of nihilistic Peanuts, replacing humor via existential angst with tragedy via emo anguish, and the pulling of the football at the last minute with bullying, bulimia, drug use, ad nauseum. Perhaps it's a faithful replication of the manga, but there are so many times when the movie feels forced and overdone at the expense of a coherent narrative. There are characters in the movie who only seem to be there to personify an issue of concern the creators wish to call attention to. All of this overwhelms the incredible acting and filmmaking. It's a form of anti-nostalgia -- Japan in the 1990s had its fair share of problems -- but when River's Edge is taken at its face-value (which is what, presumably, most American audiences will do), the whole thing comes off as an exercise in excess in many forms. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sex and violence in movies. How much is too much?

  • What are some other examples of movies in which teens engage in questionable behaviors? What consequences, if any, are shown?

  • How does River's Edge depict topics such as bullying, eating disorders, teen sex, suicide, coming out as gay? 

Movie details

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