Ride Your Wave
2020, NR, 95 min. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa. Voices by Ryōta Katayose, Rina Kawaei.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 14, 2020
When boy meets girl and girl meets boy and they fall in love and it all happens in the first act, you know you need to brace yourself for some heartache.
Ride Your Wave, the latest anime by rising master and pop art joy machine Masaaki Yuasa, gives you two characters it’s easy to love. Minato (Katayose) is a small-town trainee firefighter who always tries to do the right thing, but he’s daydreaming about the tall girl with auburn hair he can see surfing every day from the top of the fire station; Hinako (Kawaei) is the girl who knows how to glide effortlessly on the waves, but is a little more awkward on land. An adorable meet-cute brings them together, and they spend the summer on and off the beach in a first love that has all the makings of a forever love.
And then the color is stripped from the world in a beautifully orchestrated, tearjerking moment, and it feels like this could become a slightly mawkish melodrama. Yet it only takes enough time for the tears to subside before something magical happens, and the universe opens up to a fantastical way to say goodbye.
Coming in the wake of the unbeatable double bill of The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl and Lu Over the Wall (plus his critically loved revisionist take on Devilman), with Ride Your Wave, director Yuasa may have secured his position as the most important anime creator working today. It’s not just the distinctive look of his films – a mixture of pop art vivacity, Gaugin’s impressionist sensibilities, and current kinetic CG modeling – but the sheer, raw, pure heart of his work. He loves his characters, their foibles, and their inner lives. His observations seem random, but when he focuses on cooking eggs and how freshly ground coffee blooms, it becomes an important character note that will pay off. He adds a layer of joy to the script from Reiko Yoshida, whose insight into the emotional lives of teens and young adults has been given a more somber skin in two recent anime smashes, Liz and the Blue Bird and A Silent Voice. This time, Yuasa keeps the emotional weight, but adds a dreamy lightness that makes it all float.
And that’s why Yuasa’s films work. Yes, the colors, the fun, the J-pop soundtrack, the breaking waves so immersive that you can almost feel the spray in your face. But it all comes back to the characters growing, seeing their flaws or their troubles, and healing. Yuasa entrances the eye, but he also know how to make your heart soar with this deft, delicate, and highly entertaining story of loss, of coming to terms with grief, of moving on without ever forgetting.