As has become my custom of late, I would like to elaborate on my favorite scene in Ride Your Wave. Unfortunately, because it occurs near the very end of the movie, this will necessitate summarizing pretty much the entire plot for the sake of providing proper narrative context. Let this serve as your FINAL WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
So about thirty minutes into the film, Minato dies. As far as twists go, that’s hardly revolutionary; it’s been done before, albeit usually later in the story (see: I Want to Eat Your Pancreas). Somewhat more surprising is the fact that he doesn’t cross over to the afterlife; his spirit lingers in the water, appearing to Hinako whenever she sings their favorite song.
For her part, Hinako revels in this bizarre supernatural connection, and frequently abuses it in order to ease her crippling loneliness. Eventually, however, one of Minato’s fellow firefighters (who believes her to be totally delusional) forces her to confront a harsh truth: clinging so desperately and greedily to her lover’s memory is holding them both back.
Hinako makes a genuine effort to become more self-sufficient, but when she finds herself facing a dangerous situation that she simply cannot overcome alone, she summons Minato one last time. In a final act of heroism, he not only rescues her, but also inspires her to rediscover her own bravery and selflessness. And then, with his earthly business concluded, his soul vanishes in a brilliant flash of light.
Fade to several months later. It’s Hinako’s first Christmas following Minato’s demise, and she’s revisiting one of their favorite hangouts. All things considered, she’s handling it remarkably well… until the public address system delivers a holiday message that her boyfriend arranged the previous year. In a conventional romantic drama, you’d expect her to smile wistfully and walk off into the sunset with renewed resolve. Instead, she lets loose a cry of unrestrained anguish and literally collapses to the ground. We don’t even see her regain her composure; as the scene ends, she remains on her knees, still sobbing uncontrollably.
That moment absolutely destroyed me—and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s so damn raw and honest; sure, Hinako has “completed” her character arc by acknowledging that Minato is gone for good… but that doesn’t make her pain and sorrow magically disappear. Because grief is like the sea: navigating its crests and troughs isn’t always easy, and you will wipe out on occasion.
Thus, Ride Your Wave proves once again that animation is not a genre, but rather a storytelling medium in its own right; few live-action movies manage to so elegantly to capture such a degree of emotional authenticity.