by Richard Eisenbeis,

Ride Your Wave

Ride Your Wave
Hinako is a college student who loves surfing, almost as much as she loves her firefighter boyfriend Minato. But when he dies in an unfortunate accident, she finds it impossible to move on—especially since any time she sings their favorite song, his ghostly image appears in the waters around her.

Ride Your Wave is the newest work from acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa, the man behind The Tatami Galaxy, Lu over the wall, and most recently, DEVILMAN crybaby. Imbued with his unique visual style, this film is an examination of love, loss, and the struggle to find one's place in the world. On its most superficial level, however, Ride Your Wave is a supernatural romance film with a plot torn straight out of the '90s. From the premise alone, it's likely that you'll be able to guess the basic outline of the story: girl and guy fall in love, guy dies, comes back as a ghost, and hijinks ensue. It's nothing you haven't seen before.

However, this structure is just the bare bones of the story. The real meat of the film is the thematic and emotional exploration that takes place on screen, brought to life by the characters and how they deal with their unexplainable situation. Ride Your Wave can be widely interpreted in two different ways. If you believe what you see on the screen, it is a supernatural romcom filled with cute moments showcasing how two people try to make a relationship work, even when one of them is an intangible spirit that can only appear in water. The darker interpretation, on the other hand, is that the film is a heartbreaking story in which a woman is unable to deal with the death of her lover and resurrects the relationship in her own mind.

The first act of the story focuses on how Hinako and Minato meet and become a couple. It's show-don't-tell storytelling at its finest as we see a series of vignettes highlighting the key moments of their relationship. At first, the pair couldn't seem more different. Hinako is an airhead and a klutz while Minato is a highly competent firefighter. However, through their experiences together—various dates and her teaching him to surf—it's easy to see why they fall for each other. They're a cute couple.

Of course, this buildup of their chemistry is why the second act is so effective. As we're rooting for them to get a happy ending, Minato's untimely death is tragic, and we can easily sympathize with the pain that Hinako is going through. To make matters worse, due to the nature of Minato's passing, Hinako has lost not only the person she loves the most in the world but also the thing she loves doing most: surfing. And even as the supernatural aspect of the film kicks in and the pair are reunited, this sense of loss still permeates the film. Minato is very aware of the fact that, no matter how much they pretend, things can't really go back to the way they were. Minato is forever trapped in his watery prison. Sure, he can go out with her, inhabiting a water bottle or water-filled inflatable whale, but all physical contact between them has been lost. Even if she's fully submerged in water with him, he dissipates upon contact.

The third act of the film is one of healing. By learning more about Minato and her own past, Hinako begins to grow as a person. She starts to become able to move on from her listless life and "find her wave." And Hinako isn't the only one. The other two main characters in the film are on similar journeys. Wasabi is a firefighter like Minato, though a newbie and a bit of a screw up. He suffers from an inferiority complex, so when Minato's gone, he attempts to step in as Minato's replacement for both Hinako and Minato's sister, Youko. More than a little antisocial, Youko deals with her brother's death in her own way. She has already found her proverbial wave and is trying to ride it. However, at the same time, she's more than a little annoyed at how long it's taking Hinako and Wasabi to do the same. While it's hard for her to show it, she cares deeply for these people who loved her brother and wants all of them to move on from his death together—no matter how hard that may be.

The film's other main theme explores a simple question: what does it mean to “save” someone. Initially, there's a more literal answer to this question: to actually save a person from the edge of death. However, one of the key points of the film is that the right words at the right time can save a person as surely as a physical act. And more than that, it's even possible to save a person without being aware of it.

Visually, Ride Your Wave is stunning, though not as exaggerated in style as many of Yuasa's past works. Instead, much of the beauty in this film comes from movement—the movement of water, fire, and the human form. This is most clear in the surfing scenes where Hinako glides through the waves like she's become part of them, while diverse camera angles capture the action. On the aural side, it almost feels like the entire soundtrack is one single song (even though it isn't). This is because the anime's main musical theme—"Brand New Story” by GENERATIONS from EXILE TRIBE—is a vital part of the story. This song is sung not only by Minato and Hinako on their first date, but it's also the background music for more than a few scenes. Moreover, it becomes the way for Hinako to summon Minato after his death. We see it sung in happiness and sadness, both professionally and by amateurs. It is the musical core that ties the film together and sets it apart from similar films.

All in all, though the basic story framework is predictable, Ride Your Wave is an emotional film about love, loss, and discovering what you were meant to do. Its characters are complex and realistic while the supernatural aspect of the film is used for both thematic exploration and visual delight. It is a universal tale that anyone can identify with, and it may just teach you something new about yourself in the process.

Overall : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A

+ Exploration of love, loss, and finding your own purpose that speaks to the human spirit
The kind of story you've seen before in numerous iterations over the last 30 years

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Production Info:
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Script: Reiko Yoshida
Music: Michiru Oshima
Character Design: Takashi Kojima
Art Director: Fuminao Akai
Chief Animation Director: Takashi Kojima
Sound Director: Koji Kasamatsu
Director of Photography: Toru Fukushi
Executive producer: Yoshihiko Taneda
Eunyoung Choi
Yuka Okayasu

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Ride Your Wave (movie)

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