While I never pretend to be some kind of distanced critic of anime, I find it virtually impossible to approach director Yuasa Masaaki and producer Eunyoung Choi’s latest film, Ride Your Wave, with any kind of staunch objectivity. It’s a heartfelt story of love, loss, and learning to see yourself in a new light, and having watched it right at a point in life where its messages and emotions resonate with me deeply and cause my eyes to well up, I have basically nothing but praise for this movie.
Ride Your Wave (aka Kimi to, Nami o Noretara in Japanese) follows Hinako, a bright and energetic surfer girl who wants to live on her own by the ocean. After her apartment accidentally catches fire, she’s rescued by a handsome fireman named Minato, and the two start a loving relationship. However, after Minato loses his life rescuing people from some dangerous waters, Hinako becomes unable to even think about the ocean, let alone surf. But then she discovers that she can “see” Minato in any water source by singing their favorite song, and it drives her to re-discover her happiness and her inspiration to keep on living.
Love is about as common a topic in fiction as you can possibly get, but I feel it’s actually rare to see characters who come across as genuinely in love with each other. There’s a kind of “dramatic love” you often see, and there’s narratives revolving around characters finding their love, but you don’t often see the kind of love borne out of small, everyday gestures that you find in real life. Ride Your Wave’s depiction of Hinako and Minato is extremely powerful in this regard, and the tragedy hits ten times harder as a result.
But much like Pixar’s Up (a favorite of mine), that’s only the beginning of the story, and where Ride Your Wave takes its characters is uplifting while acknowledging the pain and tears. It all feels so raw and beautiful—the joy and the sorrow alike. In recent days, I’ve found myself dwelling on the fear that comes with the possibility of suddenly losing someone you hold dear, without any warning, and Ride Your Wave prompted me to confront how I might feel if thrown in that situation. I don’t think I’ve quite felt this way since I watched Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises, which also struck me at just the right time to basically electrify me to my core.
I will make one note about the aesthetic aspect of the film. Ever since founding his studio Science Saru, Yuasa Masaaki’s works have hit a kind of accessibility not as present in his older works, and Ride Your Wave furthers this trend. But rather than being a concession to mainstream sensibilities, it’s more a compromise that uses the loose and expressive aesthetics characteristic of Yuasa to tell an emotional story about love, loss, and finding yourself again. It’s identifiably Yuasa, but this is not just a film for animation buffs, or those who like a more daring artistic style.
Ride Your Wave had a one-day-only theater release through Fathom Events, and I hope it gets a wider release. It really deserves every accolade it can get. Now, if only I could get that song out of my head…