Making its US debut after receiving considerable praise in Japan this past summer, RIDE YOUR WAVE comes to Fantastic Fest 2019. The film is directed by master animator Masaaki Yuasa and released by his co-founded Science Saru production company. Toho, a studio very close to my heart, distributed the film in Japan. Earlier in the year, after making a North American debut at Fantasia Festival in Quebec, it went on to win the Best Animated Feature prize. RIDE YOUR WAVE reportedly will have an official US release next year.
The film is a fairly simple romance featuring a surfer girl named Hinako. She moves to a seaside town and shortly after arriving, some kids with a little too many fireworks to handle, accidentally cause her apartment building to catch fire. She is rescued by handsome firefighter Minato. What follows is a sweet little romance between the surfer and the guy who likes a particular type of whale so much, that even his car looks like one. Hinako teaches Minato how to surf and soon the two become inseparable.
During a walk through a Christmas tribute in a tall building in town, Minato kind of ups the ante on their relationship when he suggests that she may need to practice writing his name because she will need it if it becomes hers too. On top of that, he suggests they move in together. This leads to a nice little scene of them revealing their own worries and deep-seated fears ultimately revealing they have what the other is missing. Sadly, a terrible tragedy befalls the young couple forcing them apart. The remainder of the movie follows Hinako and how she deals with the loss of Minato and the pain of those happy memories that still haunt her.
However, she soon discovers while singing her and Minato’s song, “Brand New Day”, he appears in water. She’s beyond happy again reunited with the spirit of Minato. However, in time, it’s obvious it isn’t healthy for her to continually call to him if they can’t truly be together as they were. It’s also overlooking others’ need to be at peace with Minato’s tragedy. It also allows Hinako to truly know Minato in ways she never did before. It also leads her to peeling back the layers of an unexpected revelation from both their pasts. This helps Hinako find a new path for her own future to honor the memory of Minato.
This movie is utterly charming in every possible way. When it makes its US release next year, RIDE YOUR WAVE will be released by GKIDS for a fairly general audience. While it is in no way inappropriate or overly mature, it is undeniable there is an intended attraction to the designs of Hinako and Minato and a couple minor references to sex. While it will absolutely appeal to teens and young adults, there’s a very sweet courtship that is on display. After all, it is a romantic comedy at heart, so it really is doing everything possible to kind of glamorize this innocent romance.
The movie is also very pretty. The story starts during the summer, so it’s bright and sunny and full of color. However, as time passes, it keeps up that beautiful palette. It even plays with the palette by mostly featuring stormy, rainy, and generally gray skies after Minato’s death, but whenever Hinako is able to conjure him in the water, it is bright and sunny again.
What’s really interesting about the movie is that it’s a surprisingly contemplative movie. Is it possible that Hinako really is seeing the spirit of Minato in water or is she in such a deep state of sorrow that she’s imagining it all? It all ultimately leads to the realization how impossible it is for a soul to be at peace if one is unwilling to let it go. How you carry the memory of a loved one is not the same as the superficial need to see and be near the departed even if just once more. It has a sour effect on both you and everyone close to that person.
In the end, this pretty little romance movie is a nice parable for living your life to its fullest and honoring those you’ve lost along the way even if being apart from them is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to experience. Fans of Japanese animated features like the Studio Ghibli stuff that is really popular over here in the States should really enjoy this film. It has rich depths of emotion and likable characters. This makes for a good date night for young couples as well as those who have lost a loved one before. Not only that, it lands on such a high positive note even when Hinako has not fully healed from the events of the movie. It’s rather effective and uplifting.