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The Black Veil

Film Review: Ride Your Wave

21 July 20 words: Jamie Morris

Following a wave of successful recent anime film releases in the UK, this charming new animated feature makes its digital debut...

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Starring: Ryota Katayose, Rina Kawaei, Honoka Matsumoto
Running time: 96 minutes

2020 has been a pretty big year for anime in the UK so far, with several new movies hitting the big screen before lockdown, including the acclaimed Weathering With You. Quirky seaside drama Ride Your Wave was set to join the pack as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, but with its theatrical release cut short by cinema closures, the film unfortunately made less of a splash than originally forecast. Initially set to screen at Broadway Cinema in late March - mere days after cinemas began closing their doors - the animated feature is finally coming to VOD via Anime Limited’s new “digital festival” service, Screen Anime. 

Ride Your Wave, the fourth feature film from director Masaaki Yuasa, begins with surfer Hinako being rescued from a burning building by firefighter Minato. As is to be expected, the two quickly become a couple, and the bond between them is illustrated in the first act through a montage of heartfelt scenes that also serve as a nice window into Japanese culture, featuring exquisitely-animated cooking scenes and a Christmas Day date. Of course, the film would get a bit boring if everything just went swimmingly, and the relationship is soon torn apart by a tragedy at sea that makes way for a Shape of Water-esque twist in which Minato’s soul becomes bound to the ocean.

Proves why there will always be a place for traditional animation in telling specific stories in a way that new technologies can’t

The narrative plays out in what feels like an almost improvised way, with beats that don’t always seem to logically move the plot forward but continue to provide insight into Hidako’s journey of love, loss and growth. It’s largely optimistic in tone despite the melancholy focus, with some humour that lovingly pokes fun at similar stories, including a scene where a tiny Minato is floating in the toilet. There are also some lump-in-the-throat moments along the way, with emotion that's genuine enough to leave a lasting impact.

Yuasa’s fluid approach to storytelling is reflected in the film’s animation and art style. While the slender, long-necked character designs might seem odd at first - a bit like Tim Burton characters who’ve spent more time in the sun - they look great in motion, with every scene appearing lively and tangible. The smooth linework employed by the animators helps the story to feel gentle and sincere, and proves why there will always be a place for traditional animation in telling specific stories in a way that newer technologies can’t. 

It might be conceptually similar to several stories that have preceded it, but the unique artistic direction keeps the film feeling distinctive and fresh. It’s innovative without feeling overly experimental, and grounded in feelings of joy and despair that the audience carries with them long after Hidako and Minato’s story reaches its coda. This is a moving tale that rewards audiences for taking the plunge, signalling even more promise for Yuasa’s future projects.

Did you know? Alongside Ride Your Wave, two new TV series directed by Masaaki Yuasa aired this year: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! and the Netflix Original Japan Sinks: 2020.

Ride Your Wave is available on Screen Anime from 25 July

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