Anime Explores Grief in ‘Ride Your Wave’ (2019)

A sad tale of delusion with a perky animated style, Ride Your Wave is a romantic tragedy about surfing. Only anime, and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida, could have created such a thing. The film is a well-structured cautionary tale about grief, with a surprising amount of depth for its short length. (GPG: 4/5)

Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Ride Your Wave opens with a plucky girl biking with her surfboard to the beach, against the backdrop of a colorful oceanside town. As she surfs, two firefighters watch her from a distance. One of these will soon be her boyfriend after he saves her from a fire in her apartment building. Minato spends a lot of time looking out at the ocean when he’s not on duty at the fire station, and he’s become captivated by this young girl and her sea turtle surfboard. The connection between them is deeper than either of them realizes at the time, and will prove to be stronger than death.

Backing up a bit, Ride Your Wave‘s first act is that of a fairly straightforward love story; the audience almost wonders what will happen to give these two young lovers a problem to solve or an obstacle to overcome. That problem presents itself when Minato is tragically killed while saving another surfer from drowning. Minato has always been afraid of drowning after nearly dying in a swimming accident as a child, which is one way he and Hinako bond after they meet. It’s an intriguing parallel that he saves her from fire while she teaches him to overcome his fear of water. It’s overcoming this fear that allows him to save his fellow swimmer as bravely as he would save someone from a burning building, though that’s cold comfort for Hinako when she finds out she has lost him.

The movie takes a pretty sharp left turn at this point because Hinako literally goes mad with grief after losing Minato. Minato and Hinako both loved a certain song called “Brand New Story” from one of their favorite movies, and Hinako discovers soon after his death that if she sings the song near water she can conjure up Minato’s image in the water. Whether this is really Minato or just a projection due to Hinako’s grief, the film leaves to our imagination for the most part. However, there are moments where Minato really does seem to be affecting the world, and in a way that the other characters seem able to perceive even if they don’t see Minato himself.

Here we get to know one of the minor characters who has taken a backseat in the film so far; the comedically named Wasabi is one of Minato’s best friends and one of the people most concerned about Hinako’s slide into madness. He’s the only one who really tells her that it isn’t normal to walk around hand in hand with your dead boyfriend’s blow-up beluga toy, speaking to it like it is your dead boyfriend. This example might clue you in to how intense this gets, and it really speaks to the failings of Hinako’s friends that they never really try to wake their friend up to the damage she’s doing to her life.

You might be wondering at this point how we’re still along for the ride with Hinako when she’s going so far off the rails. The answer is that Reiko Yoshida starts the movie off with a series of scenes meant to make us like Hinako. She’s a gutsy girl who has moved to a new town all by herself to study marine biology, while she spends her spare time surfing in the ocean she studies academically. Her apartment is still full of boxes from the move when we meet her for the first time, and the harrowing moment when she has to keep a stack of boxes from falling on her freshly cooked dinner is something anyone who has moved can sympathize with. Hinako’s optimistic attitude and helpful teaching style make us understand exactly why Minato falls in love with her. Once we like this character, the misfortunes she endures to become sympathetic to us, so the film doesn’t lose us as an audience with the extremes of Hinako’s grieving process. It’s done what a story should — which is — taking us along for an implausible ride by getting us to empathize with its protagonist.

Considering everything I’ve outlined about the film so far, you can probably guess that this is anything but the upbeat summer anime it seems to be. This film gets into a very mature and heavy discussion of the grieving process and what it means to let go and move on from traumatic experiences. I probably wouldn’t take a kid to see it, unless I felt like they were ready for a pretty in-depth discussion of death. I would recommend this film highly in general though because its lovable cast of characters and the textured way it handles its themes is pretty much excellent across the board. When the plot has been resolved, the title makes perfect sense — life is like riding waves, and you have to learn to go with it rather than resist.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (3/4/20)

Does Ride Your Wave pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

More often than not, Hinako talks to most of the other characters about Minato. However, at the beginning and parts of the end that changes, so the film officially passes!

Top Photo: Hinako meets Minato for the first time.

Middle Photo: Minato and Hinako on a date.

Bottom Photo: Hinako communing with Minato’s aquatic ghost.

Photo Credit: East Japan Marketing and Communications, Inc.

Tags: anime, FF2 Media, Reiko Yoshida, Surfing

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films. Some of her favorite FF2 pieces she's written are her review of The Game Changers, her feature on Black Christmas, and her interview with the founders of the Athena Film Festival! You can also find more of her work on her website!
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