Coming from visionary director Masaaki Yuasa, Ride Your Wave is the latest film in an impressive filmography. Yuasa’s other recent films — the colorful and sweeter-than-candy Lu over the Wall (2017) and the beyond fun fever dream Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017) — are hard acts to follow for sure. Unfortunately, Ride Your Wave doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors.
Ride Your Wave is a fine movie on its own. The film follows college student Hinako, a surfer who meets and falls in love with Minato, a firefighter. The two spend an obscene amount of time together, Hinako teaching Minato to ride the waves and Minato teaching Hinako about cooking, coffee and other neat things. One night Minato goes surfing without Hinako and loses his life trying to save someone. Hinako has trouble living without Minato, barely being able to function until she finds him in the water while singing a song they used to sing together. Hinako’s resolve from that point on is to sing the song frequently in order to keep him around.
The way Ride Your Wave portrays grief is where it shines brightest. Seeing Hinako try to wade through her feelings and her conflict about being able to let go is tough to watch because of how relatable it is. Hearing Hinako belt out this song repeatedly, her voice cracking during her desperation, is soul crushing. I cried three times while watching her figure life out. Losing a loved one is never easy, and Yuasa was able to capture that quite well.
Alongside the heavy subject matter, Ride Your Wave’s animation is a bit tough to look at. The story has some supernatural elements (Minato walks around town inside of a giant inflatable porpoise with Hinako), but because of how grounded in its subject matter it is, it can be a bit jarring with the animation Yuasa uses. The animation could have been zanier to capture how surreal the experience of grief and the things that come with it (especially in Hinako’s journey). The shiny and sleek look presented doesn’t always work well with the film, which is disappointing given the fact that Yuasa definitely knows how to combine the right animation to tell the right kind of story (Lu over the Wall is vibrant and colorful, and it somehow works in telling a tale about music, discrimination and friendship).
One noticeable aspect of Yuasa’s films is that there are typically few tracks that stand out or are used frequently. Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, Lu over the Wall, and Mind Game all have this to different extents, Lu over the Wall being the most visible culprit with a song sung or instrumentalized several times. Ride Your Wave follows this trend, with Hinako and Minato’s song being sung several times. This film may make the most of this Yuasa trope, because it makes the most sense. Hinako repeating the same song to bring Minato to her is a very clever way to make the most of the original song. It also helps that the song is pretty good.
Ride Your Wave may very well be Yuasa’s most tame film, though still experimental. The film is creative and constantly interesting but can be dull at times. There are worse ways to spend 96 minutes though.