This article contains major spoilers for the Ride or Die ending.
Ryuichi Hiroki’s odd, obscure, undeniably affecting romantic road movie Ride or Die isn’t easy to recommend. It also isn’t particularly easy to get a grip of, in a narrative sense, despite it having barely any plot. Its deliberate ambiguity, brazen honesty, and refusal to abide by any rubric but its own do make it a worthwhile film to try and unpack, though, so let us do that and see if we can put the pieces of that two-and-a-half-hour jigsaw puzzle together.
The setup is simple enough. Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki from a screenplay by Nami Sakkawa, itself adapted from Ching Nakamura’s popular manga Gunj?, Ride or Die finds abused housewife Nanae (Honami Satô) turning to her old school friend Rei (Kiko Mizuhara) for a pretty big favor. She wants Rei, a lesbian who was obsessed with her back in the day, to kill her husband, Kotaro (Shinya Niiro), and offers to sleep with her in return.
Virtually all of this takes place in the film’s opening scenes; you’d expect it to be teased out over the entire film, but Ride or Die doesn’t play by the rules. We’ve already seen Rei seduce, sleep with, and slash the throat of Kotaro before we even know who he is. From there the plot winds back a little to provide context, letting us in, briefly, on Rei’s relatively happy life as a plastic surgeon with her girlfriend, and seeing how Nanae’s call, her old obsession, and her horror at seeing Nanae’s badly bruised body when she strips naked in the hotel room they meet in, compels her to agree to this seemingly senseless act.
There’s a sense that Rei never believed she’d go through with the murder, and that Nanae never really thought she would either, so its aftermath finds both of them scrambling to get out of town with the fuzz hot on their tails. Just as it seems like we’re heading into Thelma and Louise territory, the film quiets down, as both Nanae and Rei begin to explore their feelings for both themselves and each other. They enjoy each other’s company but lament the differences in their backgrounds and present lives that seemingly make them incompatible; Nanae comes from nothing and has spent a lifetime being abused by men, while Rei came from wealth and has abandoned a happy life to pursue a pipe dream of true love.
The theme of desperation winds throughout Ride or Die. As we learn in flashbacks, Rei was so desperate to be with Nanae that she was willing to pay her school fees on the proviso that, if she didn’t recoup her losses within five years, Nanae would have to sleep with her. Nanae was able to get married and pay her back before that deadline, but the film finds her trapped in a life of abuse that she’s desperate to flee from. She manipulates Rei’s old feelings out of that desperation and is shocked to discover they’re strong enough to go through with a scheme that must have been, at least in part, wishful thinking. Now, together, both are desperate to discover in each other the sense of meaningful, honest connection that has always been missing from their individual lives.
Since there is little plot to speak of here, the Ride or Die ending becomes a thematic one. Intimacy between Rei and Nanae is saved until very close to the end of the film, in an extended sequence that is complicated by both women seemingly being willing to kill the other rather than return to their previous lives. What should be a moment of catharsis is muddied by that darker note, the sense that even though these two women have finally found each other, neither seems able to carry the burden of what their love might entail. Rei’s decision at the end of the film is a self-sacrificing one that she believes will bring Nanae a greater peace than the two of them could achieve together – she gives herself up to the police, and in the closing moments, they take her away as Nanae tearfully screams that she will wait for her.
In that final act of betrayal, but also love, Rei proved to Nanae for perhaps the first time in her life that she was valued; that she was worthy enough for someone to give their life for her. I imagine she’ll wait as long as it takes.