“Ride or Die” Movie Review: One Murder, Two Sapphic Women, and a Road Trip of a Lifetime

Nanae (left) and Rei (right) cuddling together. Image: screenshot taken from "Ride or Die."
Nanae (left) and Rei (right) cuddling together. Image: screenshot from Ride or Die

Ride or Die is a Japanese psychological thriller about two sapphic women on the run as they venture on an introspective journey about their past, present, and future.

Trigger Warning: Ride or Die shows violence, sex, and nudity in graphic detail. Furthermore, it deals with heavy topics such as suicidal ideation, depression, and domestic violence.

If your loved one asked, would you kill for them? Are you willing to commit crimes for them? In the Netflix film Ride or Die, 29-year-old Rei throws away the life she knows—her job, her stable relationship with her girlfriend, her everything—for the woman she loves: Nanae.

Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki, Ride or Die is a Japanese psychological thriller, an adaptation of Ching Nakamura’s manga Gunjou. Released by Netflix on April 15, 2021, the movie stars American-Japanese actress Kiko Mizuhara as Rei, a red-haired lesbian, and Japanese actress Honami Sato as Nanae, a brunette who is married to an abusive husband.

Despite having a successful career as a plastic surgeon and a stable relationship with her girlfriend, Rei still holds onto her first love—Nanae, her former high school classmate. One day, Rei receives a call from Nanae to meet up after a decade. So she does. The reunion sparks discussions about financial independence, Nanae’s troubling marital life, and domestic abuse. Seeing the bruises and hearing Nanae’s almost whimsical desire for her husband’s death, Rei sets out to kill him.

Two lives are forever changed. As the two are on the run for murder, Rei and Nanae grapple with their past as they try to live in the present.

Rei and Nanae: Lesbian Representation Through Two Complex Characters

If the trailer misled you into thinking that the movie is about two sapphic women’s happy ending as they are on the run from the authorities, then you would be very wrong. If anything, this movie is an attempt at portraying two sapphics as relatable, three-dimensional characters, examining their traumas and insecurities.

For example, Rei comes from a wealthy background with a sizeable allowance when she grew up. However, she struggles with heteronormative expectations as a lesbian. She is considered a social outcast in high school because of her sexual identity. At one point, she confesses to Nanae that she fake-dated one of her guy friends to appease her traditional parents, especially her mother.

Rei cries in the restroom stall, holding a newspaper. Image: screenshot from "Ride or Die"
Rei cries in the restroom stall, holding the newspaper. Image: screenshot from Ride or Die

One of the most memorable scenes is Rei crying in a restroom stall as she holds a copy of the newspaper, the headline describing the murder of Nanae’s husband. However, the newspaper redefines the murder as an extramarital affair gone wrong, where a prostitute kills the man in a fit of jealousy. Even with a murder to her name, Rei remains unacknowledged by society as a lesbian.

For Nanae, she comes from an abusive family. Her father beats her in place of her mother, who left the family. Then she marries a wealthy man who has a penchant for hitting her around. It becomes a cycle of abuse.

Nanae’s family also struggles with money, so she was only able to go to Rei’s high school on a sports scholarship as a track-and-field athlete. However, she loses it when she injures herself by trying to steal better shoes for her competitions. Suffice to say, Nanae is conscious of money and she feels inferior to Rei.

Nanae recounts her last meeting with Rei ten years ago, confessing how she felt like an adult for being financially independent enough to split the bill at the restaurant. Although it was a move to deter Rei from thinking that it was a lunch date, Nanae kept the receipt and change as a treasured memento in her cigarette case.

What I really enjoyed was how the movie shows lesbian representation through the characters’ complexities. It is raw and intense. However, I hesitate to call Rei and Nanae’s relationship a romantic one because there are so many painful memories and trauma that each character shoulders. Rather than a relationship study, the movie focuses more on each women’s struggles.

As the two women venture on a road trip, they discuss their past, talking about their families and reminiscing about their high school days. Along the way, Nanae makes jokes about killing herself. She worries about being a burden. Meanwhile, Rei believes that she is a liability to Nanae’s normal life, as a murderer caught on camera. The movie unfolds as the two contemplate their lives, with Nanae thinking about death and Rei thinking about turning herself in. As viewers, we see them spiraling into mutual destruction as they try to cling to normalcy.

As a person who loves seeing queer representation in film, I find myself slightly disappointed with Ride or Die, which seems to cater to the male gaze. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the way the camera slowly surveys Rei’s naked body from the bottom up as she showers. Similarly, the sex scenes (both straight and gay) are too long, which is most likely due to the director’s background in pink films, as noted by Okazu. Other than that, I enjoyed Kiko Mizuhara and Honami Sato’s performances as the lead characters.

Ride or Die is a heavy movie to watch, so if you are looking for a sapphic movie with a happy ending, then I would recommend avoiding this one. If not, Ride or Die is available to watch on Netflix.

Author: Angel Lin

Angel Lin is a recent graduate with a BA in Comparative Literature and minor in Japanese from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In her free time, she enjoys reading web novels, watching films, and doing creative writing.

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