'Ride Your Wave' ('Kimi to, nami ni noretara'): Film Review

Courtesy GKIDS
Wobbles a bit finding its footing.

Masaaki Yuasa’s newest anime feature follows a teen surfer experiencing first love and enduring a life-changing tragedy before finally discovering her true calling.

After several recent features that favored the more fantastical aspects of the genre, anime director Masaaki Yuasa returns with Ride Your Wave, a slightly more realistic teen-oriented comedic drama. Following a June debut in Japan, GKIDS will release the surfing-themed film stateside next year, ideally coordinated with the start of summer vacation, which could help build word of mouth for a title that’s rather more conventional than the acclaimed director’s best-known films.

Relocating to Chiba to begin university studies in oceanography, avid surfer Hinako (Rina Kawaei) finds herself right at home in the seaside city, where she can hit the waves anytime after just a short bike ride down to the beach. Her route happens to pass by the neighborhood firehouse, where she catches the eye of young firefighter trainee Minato (Ryota Katayose). Clearly taken with the new girl in town, he tries to keep an eye on the nearest surf break for Hinako to appear. “That’s my hero,” he sighs, gazing at her carving waves offshore from the apartment he shares with co-worker Wasabi (Kentaro Ito). Hinako needs her own hero, though, when her apartment goes up in flames after some local punks set off illegal fireworks next door, bringing Minato to her rescue when the firefighters respond.

Apparently too traumatized by the experience to continue her studies, she takes a job at a flower shop and begins dating Minato, who is eager to improve his surfing skills. The two remain inseparable until Minato drowns during a tragic ocean rescue attempt, sending Hinako into a deep depression. One day, however, she discovers that by singing their favorite song, she can invoke Minato’s spirit, although he will only appear immersed in water, even just a glassful if it’s nearby. Hinako quickly gets reattached to her now-insubstantial boyfriend, but her friends can’t see him at all and begin to worry about her state of mind. Yet as comforting as she might find Minato’s presence, Hinako gradually realizes that she’ll need to somehow break free if she’s going to move on with her life.

Yuasa’s character designs and backgrounds are fairly realistic by the standards of his earlier films, many populated by oddball humans and fantastical creatures, like 2017’s award-winner Lu Over the Wall. This shift in style transforms Ride Your Wave into fairly standard anime fare, even if the pic’s climactic scenes are probably as ambitious as many of his other memorable set pieces. Tonally however, the film remains a bit more uneven, shifting from romantic teen drama to lighthearted fantasy as Hinako drifts further into her own world, enthralled with Minato’s spirit, even as she begins to realize that his soul may be stuck in limbo, preventing him from reaching the afterlife.

Screenwriter Reiko Yoshida initially oversells the script’s girl-power theme, first depicting Hinako as a confident and competent young athlete, then cutting her adrift when she falls for Minato and almost completely loses her sense of independence. The filmmakers’ reliance on romantic situations throughout the midsection may have some older teens and adults rolling their eyes, but the final scenes over-deliver with a literal flood of action that enables Hinako to definitively prove herself and discover her true calling.

Production companies: Fuji Television Network, Science SARU
Distributors: Toho Co., GKIDS
Cast: Ryota Katayose, Rina Kawaei, Honoka Matsumoto, Kentaro Ito
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Screenwriter: Reiko Yoshida
Producers: Yuka Okayasu, Eunyoung Choi
Executive producers: Makoto Yamaguchi, Minami Ichikawa, Masaaki Yuasa, Masanori Yumiya, Masakazu Kubo, Kei Morita, Akihito Watanabe
Editor: Kiyoshi Hirose
Music: Michiru Oshima
Venue: Hawaii International Film Festival (Spotlight on Japan) 

96 minutes