It’s hard to believe I’ve never seen a Masaaki Yuasa film before. Last week, his newest film, the 2019 Ride Your Wave, premiered in America. Naturally, I was there with soda and popcorn in hand and totally clueless about the plot.
And honestly, I can’t remember the last time I cried like this in the movies. (Okay, that’s a lie it was Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse). It wasn’t the perfect movie, but it was definitely the first anime movie I’ve seen a good while that actually shows a compelling and emotional romance.
The film follows Hinako Mukaimizu who moves to her childhood town to go to college and go surfing. After a rogue firework display sets her apartment on fire, she falls in love with her rescuer Minato Hinageshi. She admires his capability and dependency, and he admires her bravery.
Their romance blooms but ends in tragedy after Minato drowns trying to rescue another swimmer while Hinako is away. She falls into a deep depression but discovers she can call Minato’s spirit by singing ‘their song’ “Brand New Story” when she’s near water.
She finds joy in this but it isolates her from her and Minato’s friends. And she stops surfing. Eventually, she recognizes that she needs to be to “ride her own wave” and go to the next stage of her life so Minato can move properly to the after life.
This allows her to start connect with his sister, who reveals that Hinako had saved him from drowning as a child – an incident he mentioned, but she just finds mildly interesting at the time. It’s far from a driving force in the plot- which gives her the confidence [?] to join a lifeguarding course. And she is finally able to let him go when the girls become aware that the people responsible for the apartment fire, are going to try it again.
Through some mystical force, Minato is able to manipulate enough water to put out the giant fire, and Hinako surfs down the ensuing wave, showing that while she still loves him, she is ready to let him go.
It’s a very moving film.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is the sequence that shows the two falling in love, set to them singing “Brand New Story.” Their singing isn’t perfect or modulated, it’s very pure and realistic. They giggle, sometimes lose their place a bit and you can hear the little changes in their voice as they try to keep up with their music.
It makes the montage feel much realer, even though it’s them doing fairly normal stuff like going out to karaoke, kissing on the beach, having matching phone cases…It’s just really sweet.
Being unfamiliar with Yuasa’s work, I was wondering if she was really hallucinating Minato being there and the movement of the water. The other characters certainly thought so, and I thought it would be interesting if that was the case, and this was her mind’s way of coping.
But, it really is magic. Or fate. Or destiny. Or love.
And that’s really special.
The two have a mutually supportive and loving relationship. She doesn’t worry about his safety as a firefighter, and he cares about her even though she doesn’t quite know what she wants to do, and she sometimes drops her trays down the dumbwaiter shaft.
They both have their strengths and their flaws. And their flaws are realistic and actually affect the story. And the portrayal of grief in the movie hit me hard.
I’ve lost friends and family but never someone who I connected on the level these characters connected…but I understand it, the not wanting to leave the house or eat, giving up activities, his death affects her so much… In many ways, this film is more about overcoming grief than it is about romance.
When Minato’s friend, the less serious Wasabi, expresses interest in Hinako, Minato encourages her to start a romance with a tangible person. She doesn’t. She’s just not interested in him.
And she isn’t treated badly because of it. Plus, Wasabi still finds love.
Compare this ending, and the journey to another recent anime release, Weathering With You. The film’s romance has its basis in a lie, likely multiple lies. The two main characters don’t exactly have a lot in common. Or a lot of chemistry.
Certainly not enough chemistry that justifies flooding Tokyo, causing an everlasting rainstorm that probably killed…a few thousand people. At least. That’s not romantic. That’s just stupid and selfish.
But back to the review at hand, every single aspect of the movie: the characters, their personalities, the firework incidents, the waves, is enhanced by Yuasa’s art style. The perspective often changes around wildly, the colors are bright and vibrant…the scenes with Minato as a spirit are always interesting depending on his container: a clear thermos, a pool, her bath and an inflatable porpoise… I love how the water is animated.
It’s different from what I normally see in anime, but I really like it, even though it took a bit to get used to the design and proportions of the characters. They aren’t bad, just different.
I love how the animation seems to freeze at certain points.
It was a really enjoyable, fun and emotional movie. I didn’t know what to expect going in and I think I was better off for it. I would have hated having the twist spoiled. And it makes really want to check out Yuasa’s other work.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2019 (Japan) 2020 (U.S. Theatrical)
Length: 96 minutes
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Reiko Yoshida
If you liked this review read: “A Silent Voice” is a slow, but special movie