Industrial Tokyo, 1994. Teenagers have not evolved much through the years. Regardless of country of origin, whether they attend public or private school, or whether they grew up in the 1980s or in the 2000s, some things never change. Bullying, apathy, peer pressure, broken homes. When will being a teenager be a bearable experience?
Isao Yukisada’s River’s Edge brings together a collection of characters with varying degrees of teen angst. Adults are scarce, and it seems these kids need to educate themselves or risk stagnancy. But sometimes learning hurts. Pain is the common thread that draws bulimic model Yoshikawa, closeted Yamada, and tough-girl Wakakusa to a morbid treasure hidden by the river. Yoshikawa likes Wakakusa, who is dating Kannonzaki, who is banging Wakakusa’s friend, and taking out his aggression on harmless Yamada, who is dating an obsessive, bubbly junior to subvert his homosexuality. Reading this, you are either confused, or nodding your head. Because this is typical teenager drama. Adolescence is, after all, about complicated ties, love/hate relationships, and confusion about life. No teacher or parent can quite understand the generational problems of The Teen.
River’s Edge is based on the manga by Okazaki Kyoko. The author may very well have been inspired by the 1986 film of the same name, directed by Tim Hunter and starring Keanu Reeves. Same angst, same ‘treasure’. Teenagers acting in very similar ways when faced with similar occurrences. Yukisada’s version plays on social stereotypes (the gay boy, the slutty classmate, the overweight sister we never talk about), and paints a bleak picture about freedom of expression and body consciousness – something very current in 2018. Under Tokyo’s grey skyline polluted with plumes of industrial waste, it is an exploration of what it means to be alive.
At their tender age, teenagers don’t know anything about life (though they think they do). Stony-faced Akakusa says that being alive means to feel. Warmth, cold, pain; something. Anything. In that sense, adolescence is bittersweet. If only we could focus more on the sweetness than the bitterness.
TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills, 5:45 PM, October 30th, 2018.