ANIME/FILM REVIEW | "Ride Your Wave" Hangs Ten With Emotion, Wipes Out With Plot
There’s a lot of strange whimsy within the works of director Masaaki Yuasa and his Science Saru animation studio. Whether it’s something dark like Devilman Crybaby, light-hearted like Lu Over the Wall, or completely bonkers like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Yuasa and his team always manages to bring forth some imaginative ideas with a mixture of deep philosophy and memorable characters. Perhaps this is why I’ve walked away from their latest film Ride Your Wave with a wee bit of disappointment in my gut.
An original story by Yuasa, Ride Your Wave focuses on a surfer girl named Hinako (Rina Kawaei), who moves close to the ocean for her studies. There she meets a firefighter named Minato (Ryota Katayose), who saves her life after an illegal firework display sets her building ablaze. The two grow closer together, as they make plans to spend the rest of their lives together. However, when Minato’s life is cut short, Hinako is left to grieve with zero desire to hit the waves ever again.
That’s when a strange occurrence starts to happen to Hinako. Whenever she sings a specific song, Minato appears to her via nearby water. As such, she tries to rebuild their lives together in a rather kooky fashion, with no one believing her regarding Minato’s resurgence. With time passing by, Hinako’s grasp on reality begins to falter, as those around her try their best to help her move on and reignite her passions.
There’s a major problem with Ride Your Wave right off the bat, and it’s a similar one to why Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises didn’t work: it’s too normal of a film. Both directors make their living crafting some of the most eye-popping and visually imaginative films, defying even the most creative of individuals out there. So when a visionary director attempts to bring something more slice-of-life to their repertoire, it can feel pretty stale and lifeless. That’s what Yuasa has unfortunately done here with his most recent film, and its blandness is hard to overlook.
Mind you, the film looks gorgeous, with every frame presented with some of the brightest and stunning animation you’ll come across in the past year. Moments of action fly off the screen with precision and jaw-dropping details, as scenes involving surfing and fighting fires bring out some breathtaking moments. The same can be said about Kawaei and Katayose’s performances as Hinako and Minato, who bring a lot of emotion to their roles when they’re together. Once separated, Kawaei demonstrates a great understanding of how to bring a grieving person to life behind the microphone, with her seemingly delusional means of coping being of a very understanding nature.
And yet, there’s a hint of cruelness on how Hinako’s being treated over her grief. While I do get that Minato’s sister Yoko (Honoka Matsumoto) is supposed to be presented as a realist, her treatment of Hinako during the second half of the film can be seen as rather cold. Having onlookers be gobsmacked over Hinako talking to a water bottle or dragging an inflatable finless porpoise around may be seen as humorous; but in these moments, I can’t help but feel like the film is laughing at Hinako rather than with her. Because of this, it makes what Hinako go through in order to recover kind of hard to swallow.
Ride Your Wave is filled with beautiful imagery, but its narrative is weak compared to Yuasa’s past work. While it may touch a core with people who have dealt with loss and grief, it often feels a bit too mean to its main character and what’s she’s going through. As a piece of visual art, it stands out strongly with many other anime films of recent memory; as a thought-provoking character piece, it doesn’t quite keep its head above the water. Consider Ride Your Wave a mere misstep in Yuasa’s illustrious career, as fans of his will quickly move on to his recent foray Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! to remind themselves of the epic spectacles he can create.
Promotional consideration provided by GKIDS and Tahajah Samuels of Brigade Marketing. In theaters February 19th. Click here for tickets!