As a fan of more conventionally styled anime, I was wary of director Masaaki Yuasa’s Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome (The Night is Short, Walk on Girl), and avoided seeing it when it screened stateside in 2018. Later I was assured it was good, but it just looked too experimental. When Yuasa’s Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara (Ride Your Wave) hit cinemas last week, I did go see it, and I’m glad I gave his work a chance. This is a heartfelt story of romance, grief and healing, which makes excellent use of the medium’s given ways telling a story. Ride Your Wave is never “out there” just to be different, but Yuasa and his co-workers use their talents to successfully realize some incredible long shots and zany situations that really add to that story.
Moved out, but before college starts or she’s even unpacked the canyons of boxes in her room, Hinako Mukaimizu is living a sunny, happy life, out of bed and straight to the beach in the mornings for some surfing. (Otakus can be forgiven for thinking, as I immediately did, It’s Nami! The protagonist is such a dead ringer for the One Piece mainstay, I thought of this as what the actress’s “real life” would be were One Piece live action).
One of the first things you’ll notice in Ride Your Wave is the gorgeous extended shot of Hinako atop the waves, perspective panning back and forth, as the movie starts; a little is lost watching at home though, her figure a looking puny against the waves off the silver screen. Unknown to Hinako, her mastery of those waves has won the admiration of Minato Hinageshi, a fireman who espies her plying the tides from atop the fire station. She’s Minato’s “hero”. But when fireworks launched at a construction site set fire to Hinako’s apartment building, Minato gets to be her hero, lifting her from the structure when she’s trapped on the roof. All it takes is her invite to learn to surf, and they’re seeing each other. It’s an adorable romance, realistic and relatable, yet so sweet, idealized and determinedly checking off ”couple” activities to make it signaturely anime. In addition to Minato’s earnestness as a firefighter, Hinako learns, he’s a good cook, able to make something tasty whether they’re at the beach or camping in the woods. He dreams of opening a cafe one day—giving occasion for scenes coffee lovers will adore—but fire safety is never far from his mind, taking time to note that the cafe they frequent has extinguishers at the ready.
While simple subplot, I loved the food element in Ride Your Wave. Cooking anime has become very popular, but it’s nice to see attention given to something as unadorned as coffee with milk. Hinako, for her part, is always trying to make another delightfully simple dish, this omurice (omelet rice), where the egg goes on top of the rice just so...
...and then, when you slice it open...
...but that is how her mom’s turn out back home. The daughter’s are less sightly.
Minato loses his life in a surfing accident, and Hinako is devastated. She can’t move on with her life. Wasabi Kawamura, a newer firefighter still learning the ropes (or how to let the fire hose not get away from him), and Minato’s antisocial barista sister Yōko visit to try and help her, but she’s mostly unresponsive. That’s when the movie’s strange conceit comes in: when Hinako starts singing GENERATIONS by EXILE TRIBE’s “Brand New Story”, a song she and Minato both loved, she (but not others) starts seeing him in water—inside a glass, under a bridge, in a bathtub! Overjoyed at their reunion, she summons him constantly, carrying him around in a water bottle, then going so far as to tote a life-size inflatable finless porpoise, filled with water, as she rides the metro, or romantically rows down a creek. This is as humorous as it is pathetic, and can’t go on forever.
Throughout, surfing, “riding your wave”, acts as a metaphor for handling life’s challenges, and overcoming it’s hard moments. The odd supernatural element isn’t the solution to Hinako‘s problems, but it’s nice to see Minato labor from beyond the grave to give direction to the one he loves, along with living Wasabi and Yōko. Wasabi is despite his name a timid, insecure fellow, whom we get to see mature and develop in his own right. Outspoken, insensitive Yōko isn’t always sympathetic (though I always liked her), but reveals she has her own way of caring about people, and after a rough start grows closer to Hinako. There’re something like actual antagonists in this part realistic, part supernatural fiction, and if you watch this one, you’ll see Hinako and Yōko have one towering wave they’ll have to ride out after they face down some very ugly miscreants.