Masaaki Yuasa makes aesthetic dreams come true. On a canvas of human empathy, he paints in vivid colors a supernatural love story in Ride Your Wave. Hinako (Rina Kawaei) is a college student with a love for the sea and a talent for surfing. On their breaks, the local firefighting squad watches her ride the waves with the purity and grace of a saint. Fireman Minato (Ryôta Katayose) is stricken with endearment, “she’s my hero,” he tells the other men, his muse for putting out fires with his own talent for controlling some water. The two share a common bond and fall head-over-surfboard for each other, losing themselves in the wake of their requited love. He will never leave her, he says, until one day, tragically, he does, giving into some heavy waves and drowning in the surf.
Ride Your Wave is a compassionate love letter to the sea. It embraces the subject in tender, rippling streams of fluid animation. As with the director’s hit from last year, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2018), he plays with perspective and spatial relation as if they are freeform ideas, incongruous and as unpredictable as the ocean. His characters are deeply lovely. They form such an intricate and well-plotted bond that is developed through theme and motif.
When you love someone, they are never truly gone. Minato returns to Hinako when she sings their song about looking out over the water. He appears to her in the water. She carries a thermos around that he’s captured in, perpetually sickly gray yet still throwing up his signature “hang loose” sign as he sloshes around inside. He promised he’d never leave and will not renege on his word. Humorously, she fills a large porpoise floating toy and he exists inside that ridiculous shell, closer to a being, a representation of a spirit animal they have shared. We wonder, is this the literal meaning or is she not letting go of her loss? Either way, we grieve along with her, as the story refuses mawkish sentimentality in favor of genuine feeling.
Significantly, the artistry enlivens every frame of animation. It’s the outstretched limbs, prominent in the author’s work, that capture the clumsy beauty of his people. They sprawl out and awkwardly lift themselves across environments. Delicate care is given to the most rudimentary of objects. The simple folding of an egg while cooking relays so much texture, while coffee percolates dreamily in a pot. There is a special emphasis on the food, the feeling, and pride of presentation; its rich, lively aesthetic really drives the idea home.
Ride Your Wave doubles as a lovely Christmas story. As any seasonally fit movie ought to, it inspires us, brings us closer to our loved ones, helps us live in and cherish the moment. To be right here and to hold on for all we’ve got. It’s a significant anime release from a director who’s cultivated quite a following, efficiently unraveling an inspired body of work. It surpasses his prior entry in cheery optimism and love for the human condition. There are few anime quite as life-affirming and intrinsically endearing as this one. When a passion burns this brightly, nothing can put that fire out.