[Despite my best efforts, the following review contains MINOR SPOILERS (though most of them are only by implication); consider yourself duly warned!]
Caught a screening of Ride Your Wave at Village East Cinema. While it lacks director Masaaki Yuasa’s usual stylistic visual flair (Mind Games’ innovative “photo-cutout” animation, Lu Over the Wall’s Fleischer-inspired character designs, et cetera), this masterpiece of magical realism is anything but conventional; indeed, in terms of its narrative, the film is subversive to its very core, delivering the sorts of whiplash-inducing plot twists and tonal shifts that I’d normally expect from South Korean cinema.
Without spoiling too much (which is nearly impossible unless I confine the discussion to just the first act), the story revolves around Hinako Mukaimizu, a kindhearted (albeit somewhat scatterbrained) surfer that’s as graceful as a ballerina in the water, but struggles to find her feet on dry land. After being rescued from a blazing inferno, she falls head-over-heels in love with Minato Hinageshi, a volunteer fireman that initially appears to be everything she’s not: brave, confident, self-assured, unwaveringly optimistic, and unhesitatingly heroic.
Ride Your Wave is being marketed as a fairly straightforward romantic comedy (by anime standards, anyway), and although that’s not entirely inaccurate, it’s also extremely reductive. The story belongs to Hinako; her desire to ride life’s turbulent waves as skillfully as she does the ocean’s drives the central conflict, and she contends with myriad obstacles along the way, including failure, loss, and self-doubt. Gradually, however, her experiences teach her the value of persistence, determination, and perseverance—even if she has to fight through tears in order to attain some small, fleeting measure of success. Yuasa’s depiction of grief is particularly poignant: tragedy, he argues, isn’t something that one simply “gets over” or “moves past”; the pain that it causes always lingers, threatening to bubble to the surface at the slightest provocation… but eventually, you will learn to at least live with it.
Ride Your Wave isn’t perfect; the pace occasionally slows to an interminable crawl as Yuasa indulges in a few quirky musical montages too many. Fortunately, the movie’s rich thematic depth more than compensates for such superficial structural shortcomings. Yuasa offers viewers a veritable smorgasbord of emotions, from sickeningly saccharine to devastatingly bittersweet—and I, for one, savored every single flavor.