'Ride Your Wave' Review: A Sweet And Heartfelt Anime About Grief [Sitges 2019]

Masaaki Yuasa has made a career out of weird yet beautifully crafted anime. From the trippy and enthralling Mind Game, to the loopy Lu Over The Wall, and even the brutally graphic and unforgiving DEVILMAN crybaby, you know you're in for a ride when his name comes out in the credits. Though at first glance his newest feature, Ride Your Wave, may seem like his most accessible film yet, it still offers an emotional and eye-popping visual feast that is as cheesy and predictable as it is charming, touching and funny. Tears may be shed, and you'll have the theme song stuck in your head for days.

The film is about Hinako (voiced by Kawaei Rina), a college student who loves to surf. She isn't a competitive surfer but loves the water and can effortlessly glide on the waves. She moved away from home to go to college and also figure out what he wants in life. We also meet Minato (voiced by Ryôta Katayose), a small-town firefighter trainee who is always trying to do the right thing. Their adorable meet-cute moment comes when Minato rescues Hinako from her burning apartment building.

The first act of the film pretty much serves as your standard romantic comedy, dealing with Hinako and Minato becoming a couple. But Yuasa does his own spin on it by focusing on visuals instead of dialogue. Through a series of vignettes, we see the highlights of their relationship, and how their differences and mutual love for water brings them together. This montage is wrapped by the movie's main musical theme "Brand New Story" by Generations from Exile Tribe, which becomes a vital part of the story. The song is sung by Minato and Hinako on their first date and quickly becomes their song, playing in the background during several scenes. It's a choice that could quickly get tiresome, but by the time it plays for the last time, it will be an emotional gutpunch.

The film's art style is reminiscent of DEVILMAN crybaby, with exaggerated features that play with proportions as if you're looking at the story reflected in moving water, which is aided by the pastel color palette that dominates Ride Your Wave. Yausa also plays with diverse camera angles to capture the surfing action, making you feel like you're one with the water.

Of course, such a happy relationship so early in the film can only lead to tragedy. After a tragic accident forces the newfound lovers apart, the film quickly becomes a poignant exploration of grief and the difficulty of moving on. This happens just as the characters discover that, by singing their favorite song, they can magically be together again – as long as water is involved. It's a plot torn straight out of the '90s, and the film fully embraces the cheesiness of it all. The characters know how ridiculous this sounds, but their chemistry in the first act was so palpable that you can't help but sympathize with their pain.

This second act becomes one of loss and pain, as the color palette becomes a bit duller and muddier, the pace gets lower and the music becomes more somber. Ride Your Wave also doesn't give a concrete explanation to what's going on, allowing the audience to interpret it as a truly supernatural romcom with cute and cheesy moments of two impossible lovers trying to make their impossible relationship work. Or, you can think of it as a heartbreaking story of a person unable to deal with the loss of their lover and imagining a continuation to their relationship through the power of a song.

The third act of Ride Your Wave then becomes one of healing. As the story explores the main characters' past and what led them to become who they are, it allows them to move on and become who they were always meant to be. Yuasa is also interested in exploring what it means to truly "save" someone, not only in a physical saving-someone-from-the-edge-of-death way, but how simple acts of kindness can impact a person in ways you could never imagine and without being aware of it.

Ride Your Wave may be predictable, but it quickly becomes a charming and heartfelt story about loss and clinging to life, one with realistic and likeable characters that may even teach you something about yourself. The first four times the theme song plays in the background you may want to pull your hair out, but by the last time someone sings "Brand New Story" you will find yourself singing along with tears on your face./Film rating: 8.5 out of 10