“It was the WLW thriller I had been waiting for, but when I saw it was directed by a straight man, my heart sank”
BY HARRIET ARGENT
At first glance, it seemed like the sapphic film of my dreams.
Labelled as an intimate romance, Ride Or Die follows the story of Rei, who is on the run with Tsujimura, a woman she has loved since high school, after helping her escape her abusive husband by murdering him.
Ride Or Die premiered on Netflix last week and is an adaptation of Ching Nakamura’s manga series Gunjō, starring Kiko Mizuhara as Rei and Honami Sato as Tsujimura.
One evening, when Rei returns home to her current lover, she gets a phone call from Tsujimura, who she has not seen in 10 years. When the pair finally reunite, Tsujimura confesses her husband is abusing her after Rei discovers bruises all over her body. This sparks the motive for the entire film as Tsujimura gives Rei the ultimatum, “Either he dies, or I die.”
It was the WLW thriller I had been waiting for. But when I saw it was directed by a straight man, my heart sank.
There are nuggets of gold in this film; the use of colour and cinematography is beautiful at times, and the death of Tsujimura’s husband was particularly spectacular, with a Gone Girl style of gore. It was also refreshing to see topics like domestic violence and LGBTQI relationships being explored in Japanese cinema.
Ride Or Die is not an easy watch. It is filled with toxic relationships which are emotionally draining at times. But the discomfort within the film is not solely down to its twisted plot-line: you cannot help but be distracted by the searing male gaze shrouding the film and its characters.
APPEALING TO A MALE AUDIENCE
Straight men have long had a fascination with lesbian women, viewing them as challenges to win over because it is unfathomable that sex could happen and be enjoyed without a man being involved, and this attitude seems imbued in Ryuichi Hiroki’s film.
Despite Rei being a lesbian all her adult life, she has sex with men twice during the 150-minute film. The first is with Tsujimura’s husband as a way of luring him to his death which can be argued is a pivotal point in the plot and has more to do with revenge than anything else. But the second time, with a creepy taxi driver, has no reasoning behind it or effect on the plot.
The other thing that was uncomfortable to watch was when Rei joked to Tsujimura that she had finally lost her virginity after sleeping with a man for the first time, which insinuates the only way to lose your virginity is to have penetrative sex with a man, which is a completely outdated and heteronormative view.
AN OBSESSION WITH SEX
At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what was falling flat in this film, but then I noticed there was a complete lack of depth in the writing of the characters and their relationship.
Rei is supposedly madly in love with Tsujimura, so much so that she would kill someone for her and risk her life, but what keeps being repeated as a motif in their relationship is Rei’s obsession to have sex with her.
In a particularly chilling scene when Tsujimura lies and tells Rei she has called the Police on her, Rei reacts in rage and begins to beat her while shouting, “You could have let me fuck you first.” It’s as if their romance just boils down to sex, and this seems to be a common trope in WLW films directed by men.
Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a prime example of this, with its seven-minute sex scene between the main characters which is both unnecessarily long and hollow of emotion. This hypersexualisation of queer women in cinema has real world implications, permitting our sexuality to be used as a tool for the male gaze.
Even films like Caro land The Handmaiden, which focus more on the intimate relationships between their protagonists and are praised for their apparent subversion of the male gaze, are still directed by men and beg the question, why is the film industry so reluctant to let queer women tell their own stories?
NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US
When Rei finally gets her wish of having sex with Tsujimura in Ride Or Die, even that involves a conversation about men as Rei wonders aloud how much better it must feel for a man to have sex. Our main characters can’t even have their most intimate moment without the presence of a man.
It made me think of the weird sex scene in Atomic Blonde that was clearly designed for and by men, when two women are filmed squirming on top of each other in a way I have never known any woman to have sex.
I’m not saying male directors can’t or shouldn’t portray different relationships on screen and there are good examples of WLW films written and directed by men. But there needs to be some involvement of queer women when making these movies. It is vital to the authenticity and representation of queer love; something which is so beautiful and deserving of screen time.
More consideration needs to be taken by directors and the film industry in the way they portray LGBTQI love because it can be damaging, and if they don’t care about our voices, why are they telling our stories in the first place?
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