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Ride Your Wave
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by Jay Seaver

"Brings both fire and flow."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As Masaki Yuasa's output increases, he seems to be moving away from the strange and trippy films that gained him attention and toward the conventional, though if the result is something like this sweet animated romance, that's not a bad thing. It's still distinctive and occasionally eccentric, and winds up being something fairly unique once the bits of fantasy there are kick in.

He quickly introduces the audience to Minato Hinageshi (voice of Ryota Katayose), a lifeguard and fireman trainee whose eye is quickly caught by Hinako Mukaimizu (voice of Rina Kawaei), an incoming freshman studying oceanography who would probably spend all day surfing if she could. They connect pretty quickly, with Minato's best friend Wasabi Kawamura (voice of Kentaro Ito) knowing his buddy's found a good thing even if Minato's little sister Yoko (voice of Honoka Matsumoto) is jealous. It seems like a perfect romance in this seaside college town, but things can change in an instant.

They do, of course, with an inevitability that will likely have viewers noting that these nice young people are almost certainly being set up for a fall early on. Ideally, the audience wouldn't see it coming that way - it is generally far better to be completely gobsmacked than to pick up on things going too well - but Yuasa and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida are smart enough to not make a morbid game of it or make the moment that things change so grim that the fantasy that comes afterward seems completely ill-advised. It's a tricky line to walk, and I suspect that some will find that the filmmakers are being too playful with serious matters, while others will be impressed with the line being walked between frightening and seemingly harmless delusion.

Part of how that works is Yuasa's character design; there's not much mistaking the jangly limbs, pointy noses, and skinny necks his characters have, making them expressive and capable of showing surprisingly sharp emotion. There's also the sheer playful abandon in how, when the thing that does give this a certain amount of fantasy emerges, there's a whimsical acceptance, that what might mark a person as crazy can somehow happen, especially since it fits the personalities of everyone involved so well. Yuasa's movies have always had a bit of the fantastic amid the everyday, and here he slides into more carefully than usual, keeping it in Hinako's head until it absolutely must come out.

And then there's the delightful animation, where once again Yuasa is using water to craft a fluid reality while also filling the world the characters live in with nifty detail. It's maybe not always the ones people might consider important or universal, but things like a particular coffee shop, firefighting techniques, and smooth surfing pull the audience in even when they might look at the very simple story with side-eye. It's a very nice combination of down-to-Earth and fantastical that does a fantastic job of getting at just how powerful young love and be and how unreal the fallout is when it's interrupted. The animation is, as per usual with Yuasa, fantastic, and he ramps his creativity and scale up as the film goes on, jumping from delightful ways to show real things to fanciful but human-scale creations to a terrific finale that works as an amazing set-piece and what these characters are feeling made visual.

Maybe that's where Yuasa is heading from now on, leaving behind works of pure animation for increasingly grounded stories that still have a foot in the realms of the fantastic. If so, he's still doing impressive work, finding an interesting spot in the overlap between bright animation for younger viewers and more grown-up themes.

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originally posted: 02/18/20 14:02:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  19-Feb-2020 (NR)

  N/A (12A)

  27-Feb-2020 (PG)

Directed by
  Masaaki Yuasa

Written by
  Reiko Yoshida

  Ryota Katayose
  Rina Kawaei
  Honoka Matsumoto
  Kentarô Itô

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