REVIEW: Ride Your Wave (2019)

So I watched Ride Your Wave from director Masaaki Yuasa this morning, and I gotta say, it was quite the visual experience. Now before I get into this, I should probably talk a bit about how I came to know about this film, since in terms of Japanese Anime Films currently available to the public, this one doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention. It first came to my attention through a review by Youtuber, Chris Stuckmann when he posted a short review of the film nine months ago. It immediately grabbed my attention, and I immediately went to try and find a site that might have it. To my dismay, the movie not only wasn’t available yet, but there was absolutely no word on a US release. I found that the Japanese release would be available in December, but I don’t have a way of watching those discs, and I’m not overly fond of what the Otaku Community call “subs”. I’m so casual… enjoying dubs over subs.

Chris Stuckmann’s Original Review

I did however find out that Ride Your Wave would be getting a one night theatrical release in the US come February. So I made a note to make sure I’d go watch it when it came out… and I completely spaced it. And to my utter dismay, I could not find anything regarding any other release of the movie for a very long time. On a whim a few weeks ago now, I looked up the film one more time and to my joy, Shout Factory had made the Blu-ray release of the film available for pre-order, and I immediately pre-ordered it. I need to emphasize that I don’t normally do this. Blind purchases are not exactly something I willingly do. But regardless, I put in for a pre-order, and was happy knowing that I’d finally get a chance to check out this film. And wouldn’t you know it? My order came about a week early! So I sat down and watched it and… well here I am.

Now it’s worth noting that I am not exactly the biggest fan of anime. When it comes to shows, I find myself very picky on what I watch.The same however cannot be said when it comes to anime movies. The fidelity and visual brilliance that often accompanies these films makes the price of admission worth it in and of itself, and that’s a good thing, considering that sometimes, the overall storytelling aspects of these movies can come up short for me on a personal level. I enjoy movies like Princess Mononoke (1997), When Marnie Was There (2014), and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), but if I’m being completely honest, each of these films could have told their stories a bit better to me. I found films like Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) to be pretty disappointing because of reasons like this. Having watched this movie and seeing what it has to offer, I can safely say that this movie actually does a decent job at telling a good story without too many shortcomings.

I was going to talk about it on next week’s SuperGeeks show, and I still will most likely, but after watching it, I felt rather obligated to write out my thoughts, because I find it criminal that this film has as little attention as it has. Also, I’m likely going to be talking some spoilers here, so be warned. I would recommend watching this regardless.

Let’s dive in.

The film focuses on a girl named Hinako Mukaimizu, a girl who has just moved out on her own in the world, and absolutely loves surfing. Immediately one of the things I love about this is that I actually can kinda immediately relate to her on a level here. The film goes out of its way to show us that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy surfing to be competitive, or to show off her skills on the board, she just surfs because she genuinely just enjoys it. I don’t surf, but I actually have a very similar mindset when it comes to swimming. I don’t exactly do it for exercise, and I don’t do it to be competitive, I just genuinely enjoy being in water, diving down, and relaxing. There’s really no other rhyme or reason to it. So Hinako enjoys the surf, but little does she know that she’s attracted the attention of a young firefighter by the name of Minato Hinageshi, who can see her surf the waves from work pretty much. The two cross paths when one night, some local hooligans set off a bunch of fireworks, and Hinako’s apartment catches fire. Minato saves her life, and the two get close.

Romance in Anime movies is nothing new, and most of the films I’ve seen focus on some form of relationship. But honestly, what I really like about this one is just how unafraid both Minato and Hinako are when it comes to just how silly or quirky they can be. Admittedly, quirky characters in these kinda of movies aren’t exactly something new, but there’s something genuinely cool about how it’s executed here, in how they seem to be at peace with it. A lot of the time, the quirkiness of a character fits into the main conflict of the story, but that’s not really the case here. Both Hinako and Minato are just openly silly, fun, and playful with each other and in how they live, and it lays out the foundation for a relationship you genuinely care about. We see them going out to restaurants, blushing, having coffee, getting introduced to a sister who I honestly didn’t expect to like by the film’s end, yet strangely do (more on this later), and Hinako teaches Minato how to surf. As we see a brief passage of time with these two characters, it quickly shows us that this isn’t your typical Disney love-at-first-sight relationship. While the film doesn’t show us how they develop in their relationship, the general idea is wonderfully executed. It’s a lovely way to open up your film, before it pretty much throws a bucket of ice water on you.

I don’t even need to know the story of why they felt the need to bring their giant inflatable porpoise into a karaoke bar. I just think they’re cute together!

Hinako’s world is turned upside down when Minato drowns, saving the life of another person. What I really appreciate about this move is that despite this setting in motion the main conflict of the story, it doesn’t happen right away. Typically in dramas like this, the main central points of conflict are quick to show themselves (in my experience at least). Take Princess Bride for example. Wesley disappears from Buttercup’s life pretty quickly in that film, and while they aren’t completely separated throughout the film, the story revolves around them overcoming various obstacles to remain together in the end. One of my personal favorite films in Wall-E, Wall-E’s love interest appears very early on too, and his chase to win her affection and friendship takes up most of the film. I can’t help but feel that the main point of conflict in this film is delayed just a bit. The film is about 95 minutes long, and Minato’s accident happens when a third of the film is done. What makes this such a good move in my eyes is that it gives us time to get used to him and her as a couple. How he impacts her life, and how the two interact with one another fleshes them both out as characters, and makes us further care about them, so when Minato is suddenly removed from Hinako’s Life, we care more about how this directly impacts her, and relate more to what she’s going through. I was genuinely distraught seeing this event destroy her love of surfing as it did (Hey, I’m not made of stone).

One thing I should really applaud right here and now is just how well this film handles the grieving process for Hinako. It’s not exactly your standard Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief, But you can tell that she’s very much living in a world of denial right here. What I love about this is that we never see her cry right here, giving further emphasis to the denial she feels at her reality, and her denial is only strengthened when she discovers something extraordinary. She discovers that when she sings a specific song that she and Minato enjoyed singing together, Minato appears to her in bodies of water. He doesn’t just appear to her, he can speak with her. The thing is, she’s the only one who can see him, which can lead to the other people in her life getting concerned for her when she’s carrying around a water bottle, and talking to it like she would if he were still there. It results in what can be called a unique journey through the stages of grief. It goes from a cute romance, to a more supernatural journey through one’s personal grief.

It needs to be said that the visuals in these scenes are breathtaking at times.

Ride Your Wave quickly becomes a bit of a ghost story in this aspect. Hinako finds her grief set aside as she now realizes she has a way to bring Minato back into her life simply by calling out in the way she can. It may be limiting, sure, but it seems to be enough for her. Not only are these scenes again really well done, but they feel strangely natural. I shouldn’t say that Hinako really makes a giant inflatable porpoise filled with water seem like a living breathing thing, but she does. The way she continues to interact with Minato in these scenes, and the way she continues to push people away in her life who are genuinely getting worried for her, and telling her that she needs to move on can be genuinely hard to watch for the right reasons. Speaking of which, it’s probably time to talk about some of these people.

Hinako and Minato are the central characters of the story, but there are at least two other characters that have a huge influence in the story and its direction. These two would be Minato’s friend Wasabi Kawamura, who later admits he has feelings for Hinako, and Minato’s younger sister, Yōko. While the two aren’t as central as Hinako and Minato, the way they contribute to this story is actually really well done. While the film admittedly doesn’t execute this part of the story as well as it probably could have, Wasabi admits to Hinako about two thirds of the way through the film that he has feelings for her. Now what this normally means is that later on in the film, Hinako will have a special someone in her life after she accepts that Minato can no longer be a part of her life as he once was. The thing is, Yōko is still in the picture, and she’s arguably one of the most interesting characters of the film. Yōko Is introduced to us as this pessimistic, sharp-tongued, very blunt and straight to the point unpleasant person. She speaks what’s on her mind, she isn’t overly fond of Hinako and her relationship with her brother, and even after Minato dies, she doesn’t seem very sympathetic, or affected by it in any way. Quite the opposite. She gets fairly frustrated with Hinako, often being one of the first people to tell her to move on. With her behavior, you’d wonder if she ever loved her brother, or was affected at all. In fact, I genuinely did not expect to like her character at all, and yet by the time the story was told, I liked her as much as any of these other characters in the movie. The film does a great job at subtly showing us just how much Minato’s did in fact mean to her, with her choosing to try and carry out his lifelong dream of eventually opening up a café, and whatnot. By the time the story ends, she truly feels like she’s gone on almost as rich a journey as Hinako herself.

What, you’ve never seen a girl take a big inflated porpoise balloon full of water down the street before?

Now I’ve been praising this movie for a lot of the things it gets right, but I’m not going to say that it does nothing wrong. I will say that the things that bugged me didn’t do nearly enough to take me out of the movie, but they’re still worth mentioning. The first was that while this film does a great job of subtly telling certain aspects of its story, there are times where the story decides to throw subtlety out the window, or straight up tell us what we probably could have pieced together by ourselves. A small offender in this is how the film shows us that despite Hinako being able to call upon Minato when she wants, it isn’t exactly like she’s calling him in the flesh. The film is quick to show us that this is very much Minato as a ghost or something similar. But that doesn’t stop the film later on saying how despite being able to be by her side, how Minato is sad that he won’t be able to kiss her or hold her hand anymore. A small offender, but there is a pretty major one towards the end of the film that I do feel probably shouldn’t have been spelled out for us, because it feels more like what TV Tropes calls an Ass Pull than genuine plot development. (Spoiler ahead)

Eventually, Hinako goes to Minato’s house to pay respects properly, and his sister tells Hinako a bit about why Minato became who he was in terms of his job and personality. In the beginning of the film, Minato describes that as a young child, he almost drowned in the ocean, which plays into why he isn’t exactly the best surfer, but his determination wills him to learn. This backstory is fine, but there’s a revelation that Hinako discovers here, and had it only been told through subtle imagery and maybe limited dialogue, it likely would have been far more impactful. Instead, we see Hinako run home, and ask her mom about an old memory that was never before mentioned in the movie about how as a young girl, she rescued a young boy from drowning, and you can immediately see where this is going. It just doesn’t have the same impact when the film decides to spell it all out for you. Now, where they take the story from here, in how Hinako decides to use this as motivation in her life to pursue a career similar to that of Minato’s in helping people as best as she can is executed fine. I just wish that the catalyst for it was a bit more subtle.

Goddamn these color schemes man… gorgeous.

And while this film looks absolutely breathtaking most of the time, it is worth noting that there were a few instances where the animation was a bit stiff. Not exactly thing that anime has been able to escape from, but some of the sequences of movement did feel a bit unpolished at times? Like there was a scene with a parachute at one point in the film, and the parachute wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. But I digress, these instances were few and far between, and I was still blown away by the motion in the water, and the color schemes they often brought forth when animating anything with water.

Another thing this film animated surprisingly well was people cooking food. This might be one of my first real instances of anime food porn, because the film made eggs look damn good in so many ways. Just look at this.

I’d be applauding too.

But honestly, the film really hits its peak with the climax at the end. While granted, the ghost story aspect does kinda become a bit of a Deus ex Machina, Hinako’s journey in her grief really comes to a point of relatability that had me in tears by the time it ended. A good portion of this film focuses on her inner desire to cling onto any resemblance of Minato, and she shuts down any sort of implication that she needs to let him go. On one hand, Minato is content with being by her side for as long as she needs him, but he also tells her that he wants her to be happy, he wants her to be loved, and wants her to be able to “ride her waves alone” without his help. The theme of Hinako needing to be able to face life without him, and persevere is the focus of her story, and seeing it come together towards the film’s finale is not only a really lovely spectacle to watch, it hits pretty hard emotionally. (More spoilers ahead.)

It’s in this finale that Hinako does learn to let Minato go, and “rides her wave”. Following this, she loses her ability to call upon Minato as she once could. And what follows, is a conclusion that honestly surprised me. You might recall how I said Wasabi confesses he has feelings for her. Well, in the film, Yōko also confesses that she has feelings for Wasabi, which is a move you don’t exactly see coming for her character, despite plenty of hints dropped. She has been this character to say quite strictly that only idiots fall in love, and so when she confesses these feelings for Wasabi, I was genuinely thinking “Oh God, someone is going to be unhappy by the time the credits roll.” Well, Wasabi and Yōko end up moving forward in a relationship, and not only is it very believable, I actually really like that the film decided to do this. To make the decision that by the film’s end, Hinako, our central character, will be single just gives me vibes that I really like. There’s a part right before the film ends where she is standing alone, she hears a message that Minato left for her the year prior, and the she finally lets out all the emotion that she has since mainly been bottling up. From what I remember, this was the first and only time Hinako cries in the film, and it feels so very well done. My family has experienced this kind of emotional release before, and seeing her finally let it out provides some very well executed closure for her, and her relationship with Minato. And of course, the film does end on a strong note, not with her crying, but with her, back on the waves, a look on her face that while she may be hurt for a little while longer, she will be alright, and will persevere, which is the best thing she can do for Minato’s memory.

Hinako prepares to ride her waves.

It isn’t often a film can turn on the waterworks for my eyes, but this one was exceptional. Ride Your Wave quickly proved to me that it was far more than a simple love story, and was set on doing so much more as a story altogether. By the time the credits were rolling, all I could think of was my girlfriend, and how much she meant to me, and how I personally might feel if I were forced into a similar position. This film does a tremendous job of really making you take a step back and simply look to the people you hold close in your life. It’s honestly very hard to properly describe just what makes this movie so well done, and it’s so hard to talk properly about why this movie works. It’s just one you need to experience for yourself.

Which again makes me very angry because not a whole lot of people are talking about it, since not a whole lot of people seem to know it exists. I’m hoping this makes even a few of you curious. If you enjoy anime movies, I highly recommend giving this movie a watch. From what I can tell, it wasn’t exactly a money-maker and is kinda off the radar. That’s not okay.

Here’s a link to purchase the Blu-Ray/DVD combo. Give it some love for me.

Just look at this and tell me your heart doesn’t melt.

If it helps sell this any…. this isn’t anything like “Sub Rosa”.