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Ride Your Wave (2019)

One of the delights of a new Masaaki Yuasa project is you never know quite which Masaaki Yuasa you are going to get. Will it be the surreal manic Yuasa of The Tatami Galaxy and The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl? The dark and twisted Yuasa of Devilman Crybaby? Or the sunny, family-friendly Yuasa of Lu Over The Wall? For somebody with such a distinctive visual style, Masaaki Yuasa is incredibly tough to pin down. No two films or series of his are quite the same.

Yuasa's newest feature Ride Your Wave is no exception. It has some major similarities with Lu Over The Wall, but while that was a fairy tale for younger audiences, this is something different- and altogether stranger. And considering Lu wasn't exactly low ranking on the weirdness scale, that's really saying something.

Ride Your Wave is directed by Yuasa, written by Reiko Yoshida (Liz And The Blue Bird, Okko's Inn) and produced by Science Saru. The film was released in Japanese cinemas in June of 2019, and was a selection at Annecy International Animation Festival that same month. It also played numerous other festivals worldwide and was awarded the Satoshi Kon Award for Best Animation at the 2019 Fantasia Festival in Montreal.

Hinako returns to her seaside childhood hometown for College. There she is able to indulge her love of surfing, which sees her catch the eye of local firefighter Minato. Their paths cross in the most dramatic fashion when Minato rescues Hinako from the top of a burning building. Hinako agrees to try and teach Minato to surf, and romance soon blooms. Tragedy strikes when Minato is drowned when going to the aid of thrillseekers who run into trouble at sea. One day, the grieving Hinako sings their favourite song and Hinako mysteriously appears in the water. From then on, she discovers that she can summon him to any watery surface just by singing their song. Can their love really keep them together forever, beyond the watery grave?

What starts as a simple, summery romance soon takes a much sadder turn, before moving unexpectedly into more supernatural territory. And it only gets weirder from there out, as there's a point where it seems to be coming to a natural close, but there's a whole other final act still to come. General audiences might feel a bit thrown by this slightly unusual pacing, but anime fans are used to sudden tonal shifts and strange twists. And any fan of Masaaki Yuasa knows to expect the unexpected.

The first act is new territory for the anime auteur, depicting an everyday story of boy meets girl. As a protagonist, Hinako is easy to root for, thanks to her cheerful disposition and independent spirit. Her accident prone nature and complete inability to cook also makes her feel more human, and relatable. It all adds up to an immensely lovable lead. The noble Minato, on the other hand, is probably a bit too perfect, possessing no apparent flaws. It doesn't really matter though as this is really Hinako'story, and she has enough personality for both of them.

Their whirlwind romance is depicted well, coming off as genuinely sweet without toppling into treacly territory. Despite Minato's idealised characterisation, their romance is still believable and their chemistry feels real.

The film also nimbly handles more serious material. The apartment fire early on creates a feeling of genuine threat and tension, making for a thrilling sequence. Minato's death scene is also highly effective and gut-wrenching- as much for what they don't show as much as they do.

It doesn't gloss over Hinako's grief and spends a good amount of time showing the effect of the loss of her beloved on her. It really effectively conveys how for the grieving, at times everything reminds you of your lost loved one. The huge contrast between her normal joyful disposition and her mood after his death makes it hit home all the more.

It doesn't stay in this mood for too long though, as Hinako is reunited with Minato in an unexpected way.  As she becomes more cheerful once again, so does the film. And while there are some dramatic scenes still to come, it pretty much stays that way for the rest of the film.

Ride Your Wave is a fantastic looking film too. It's definitely towards the more conventional-looking end of Yuasa's work, although the character designs still have his distinctive look. The backgrounds and effects all look gorgeous, giving it a real cinematic sheen. If you're a fan of food in anime you're in for a treat, as the film's lovingly depicted food and drink sequences are enough to make your mouth water.

Cleverly, the film's art design also reflects the mood of the narrative. As the film begins, its all lush pastels, sun-dappled blue skies and blue seas. As Hinako spirals into dispair following Minato's death, the colour palette changes, all the colour drains out and the film becomes all dull and grey looking. Once Minato comes back to her in watery form, in turn, the colour comes back to the film.

As with the similarly summery Lu Over The Wall, music plays a big part of the film. It's standard for an anime movie to have a tie-in single or two, but in this case, it's actually crucial to the plot. That helps it feel like it's more than product placement. It's just as well that Brand New Story (the song that features so prominently) is pretty catchy- as you're going to be hearing it a lot.

As is becoming standard with GKIDS Film's acquisitions, the film's English version is ably handled by NYAV Post and Stephenie Sheh's adaptation continues in their tradition of high-quality dubs. In the lead, anime-newbie Merit Leighton radiates warmth and handles the more sombre moments just as well.

Ride Your Wave is a surprising film, as what at first seems to be a colourful and quirky supernatural romance, ultimately turns into a bittersweet story about moving on and letting go- without forgetting those we leave behind. As the film puts it, it's about learning to ride life's waves. It's a powerful message and gives the film more depth than it first appears. More evidence (if it were needed) why Masaaki Yuasa is such a treasure in the animation world.



IN A NUTSHELL: Get swept away by Yuasa's irresistible new creation. Sometimes sunny, sometimes sad- but never dull.

Further Riding

🌊  Merit Leighton Interview

🌊  Masaaki Yuasa Interview

🌊 The AFA Podcast: Lu Over The Wall

*Screener Provided by Shout Factory*