RIDE YOUR WAVE MOVIE REVIEW
Director Masaaki Yuasa sure loves “unique” romances. His last animated feature Lu Over the Wall told a comedic story about a relationship between a boy and a fish-girl. With Ride Your Wave he not only decided to up the animation but also his weirdness game. Why only have a magical girl living in the water? That’s an idea for more grounded directors like Del Toro. A romance with the water itself? Now that’s a challenging love story!
As crazy as this may all sound, Ride Your Wave starts as chill and normal as a story can get. Hinako is a perky but clumsy surfer girl who moves into a beach town to work in a flower shop while she enjoys the waves in her off time. There’s a fireworks accident and her apartment is set on fire but she is rescued from the flames by a young firefighter named Minato. Hinako promises to teach him how to surf and the two quickly form a romantic relationship. Not yet too good at riding the waves, Minato sneaks out one morning to practice in order to impress his new girlfriend, and unfortunately drowns.
Hinako is depressed at first, but then she discovers that every time she sings a certain song, Minato always appears as a reflection in the water. At first, she’s understandably spooked by this, but soon she realizes it’s not just her memories going bonkers; Minato has become a soul trapped between the worlds. He can control the water (similar to Moana) but the two can’t touch and of course, Hinako is the only person who can see him. In a very unusual twist, rather than search for some way to help Minato’s soul find his peace, Hinako realizes that in a sense her boyfriend is still alive, so why not continue their relationship? The two start going on dates, with Minato being put either inside a bottle of water or a transparent blow-up doll. All the while, Minato’s sister and his best friend, start questioning Hinako’s sanity… and that’s all only the first act of the story!
What I love about Masaaki Yuasa films is that he creates surreal scenarios and rather than go the obvious way, he has the character make the weirdest choices imaginable. As his stories continue, he draws you into the world in a way that makes those choices seem not so unrealistic at all. That being said, his previous film, Lu Over The Wall, was filled with cartoonish surrealism, yet some of the character choices and the way they easily accepted the more fantastic elements of the plot felt more naïve then whimsical. Ride Your Wave is the other way around: it only has one magical realism element, but the characters are so likable and fun you buy into the madness with them. You want to see how far they will go with the idea of a girl dating what is essentially a talking reflection in the water, to see how their relationship will develop, as well how the supporting characters will react.
Masaaki Yuasa’s animation is both breathtaking and unique. At first, his work appears to be representative of a typical anime style, but soon dozens of other influences reveal themselves. The character movement, in particular, is much more rubbery than the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli style. At times it feels more like something from Fleisher or Looney Tunes (some scenes specifically bring to mind the works of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett). All this isn’t to say it has abandoned some of the more beloved traditionally Japanese animation elements. For example, whenever characters cook something it’s a feast for the eyes, with extended shots of eggs boiling or coffee being made. Much like in Miyazaki’s films there’s plenty of pleasant atmospheric details. Yuasa also goes really crazy with camera movement especially during the climax when the camera starts spinning around the surfing characters during an extended action sequence. This combined with some fantastic fire and water effects create a sight well worth seeing on the big screen.
The real stunner here, however, is the character animation. There are plenty of hilariously over the top facial expressions but also sometimes it’s about the humor of the quick and quirky little reactions. Not everything is played for laughs; there is a very powerful scene of a character crying. Yuasa makes it the ugliest, most deeply emotional sob possible but one that feels very relatable, convincingly and distressingly the same way people break down in real life when they have lost a loved one.
There aren’t really many flaws I can think of. The beginning of the film features a bunch of love montages of Hinako and Minato dating while a giggling Karaoke song plays in the background. The sequence plays for a good ten minutes if not more. There is zero conflict or character development, just a cute couple doing cute couple stuff. Clearly, some folks are not going to dig it. During one of these montages Hinako’s two best friends are introduced, one being a bit of a nerd and the other one being a bit of a goth, but they seemed totally redundant to the story. Minato’s sister and his best friend from the fire station were there for Hinako to have emotional support and both of them have interesting arcs of their own whereas the other two just felt like random additions. One could call these nitpicks, and on the whole, they didn’t really bother me but are worth mentioning as a bit distracting from the rest of the movie.
Ride Your Wave is a crazy but touching story that creates a unique universe and a truly enjoyable viewing experience. It’s a story about dealing with loss and trauma that knows how to sugarcoat the difficult emotional sequences just enough and when it wants to be funny, well, I practically fell out of my chair. Oh, and good luck getting the movie’s theme song out of your head. The story is touching and sad but I found myself saddest at the end…because it was over! I wanted to see more of these characters, Hinako in particular. Big recommendations here and bigger hopes for future Masaaki Yuasa projects!