We got to watch Masaaki Yuasa’s new delightful movie Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara / Ride Your Wave and had to write about the sincerity of its craft and its storytelling, how it intertwined its character relationships and visual vocabulary, and the place it occupies in Yuasa and Science Saru’s body of work. No spoilers beyond the pivotal event present in every synopsis and promotional video!
Last year, our visit to the Annecy International Animated Film Festival allowed us to tell you about Masaaki Yuasa‘s new film project before it had even been properly announced. And now, over a week prior to its Japanese premiere, we’re back here to share plenty of details about the movie. Again, we’ll try to avoid spoilers by not saying anything that wasn’t already explicitly mentioned in the premise and all the promotional videos, but those include a pivotal event the whole movie is built around so you might want to stay clear if you’re the kind of person who’d rather go in fully blind. Otherwise, enjoy!
Every Yuasa anime is a love story. That used to be a common interpretation among fans who noticed that you could distill his titles down to wildly different tales of love. Nowadays, it’s as close to canonical gospel as you can get when it comes to interpretations of art, seeing how even the man himself has referred to his oeuvre in those exact terms. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who’d disagree, but when it comes to Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara — henceforth Ride Your Wave — you won’t find many viewers who’d argue this is anything but a love story. Yuasa pitched it as his most straightforward romance and, inherent quirkiness aside, he lived up to his promise.
You’ll quickly realize that Hinako Mukaimizu and Minato Hinageshi are a perfect couple. A scatterbrained woman who loses all her clumsiness when she gallantly rides the waves, and a fireman with seemingly superhuman skills but with a dorky side to him as well. Somewhat linked together by water, before we even know their backstories and the surprises the narrative has in store. After their introduction, the movie wastes no time in hooking them up — there’s no beating around the bush with a couple that has chemistry as natural as theirs.
That straightforward approach to scripting would make for a charming movie on its own, but it truly shines because of its symbiosis with Yuasa’s storyboarding. Clarity of expression is instrumental to the film, in a way that makes the whole story come across as tremendously sincere. The most obvious but also most interesting instance of that was the decision to make symmetrical compositions the visual backbone of Ride Your Wave. It’s one thing to write a couple that fits each other perfectly, but managing to present their lives together in such a harmonious way was no easy feat despite the seemingly simple idea behind the storyboard.
That mentality is especially obvious during a montage of the couple’s love life, which is also accompanied by a rendition of the song that brings the two together — another aspect that feels exceptionally genuine, since it’s performed by their VAs and is full of constant pauses as they stop to laugh or simply get too embarrassed to keep on singing; the distributor shared an excerpt of it that you might have already seen, but I recommend not checking it out if you never got around to watching the clip since it’s one of the most delightful scenes in the entire movie.
While moments like that encapsulate the identity of the movie perfectly, the truth is that the couple’s symmetrical presentation permeates the entirety of it… so much so that I caught onto it and its potential intent months ago by watching the promotional videos alone. Don’t take that as proof that I have a keen eye, but rather as a testimony of how omnipresent of a visual motif it is. Even a certain other couple that flourishes later onto the movie begins getting presented in similar fashion before their fate it spelled out loud, because this movie is too honest to hide its cards.
But of course, that symmetry was meant as a double-edged sword all along. We grow accustomed to the harmony of the shots featuring them both to the point that even before tragedy hits, there’s palpable unrest whenever that symmetrical balance is broken. Following the unsubtlety of the movie in general, the first major example has the main couple stop holding hands as a skyscraper towers in the middle of the screen, right where they used to be joined. That location is once again used to signify separation during the final beats of the movie, making it clear how deliberate that was.
This also means that, even if you managed to watch this movie while avoiding all promotional material whatsoever, you’ll know exactly when the accident that separates the two is about to happen. The scene is introduced via both characters standing perpendicularly in the center of the screen — the loneliest of compositions, and a clear contrast with everything that came before.
If you were familiar with the synopsis, however, then you’ll already know that the boyfriend does a sort of comeback in magical water form. As joy returns to the couple’s lives, so do the myriad of peaceful symmetrical shots… which are later revisited to question the subjective harmony we saw, as the film begins questioning whether being hung up on someone who’s passed away is the healthiest mindset. Meaning that by this point, the main precept behind the storyboarding has already been used to sell the suitability of two lovebirds, make loss hurt even more, and pose the most poignant question in the movie. Simple as these shots are, it’s impossible to separate Ride Your Wave from the way it’s presented.
Without giving away to much, I’ll say that it’s a movie about love, moving on, but also retaining. The clarity of every other aspect perhaps isn’t as present on that thematic level and I wouldn’t be surprised if that irked some viewers, but I can’t say it bothered me too much. Feelings are a murky thing — especially when it comes to matters like this — so people being unable to reach a clean, definitive conclusion regarding love and grief didn’t seem like much of a problem.
Hearing about the movie’s synergetic sincerity might be enough to sell you on it, but there were a few more notes we felt were important even when it comes to lighter preview coverage like this. It goes without saying that Yuasa’s decision to keep on collaborating with writer Reiko Yoshida has paid off in making the daily life scenes amusing to follow, and her nonchalant nonsense is always welcome as well. The more outrageous gags like Hinako summoning her liquid boyfriend in the toilet during a delicate situation will get a laugh out of you for sure, but there’s an undercurrent of absurdism that turns even the classic scenario of a girl meeting her prince into quite the ridiculous scene. Yuasa makes funny cartoons, and with Yoshida by his side, even more so.
Rather than keep looking at it from Yuasa’s lens though, it feels more appropriate to end by discussing the film as the result of Science Saru’s efforts. Years ago, I admitted my worries about the studio embracing their non-standard Flash production pipeline because of the effects the vectorization of the animation had on the idiosyncratic artists who often work with Yuasa. Rather than try and hide the downsides, this is something the director himself has been pretty open in talking about, even as it has cost him some working relationships. Was it worth it then?
Despite my initial fears, the answer I’d give you right now is absolutely yes. Artistically things haven’t always worked out the best, leading to some unnervingly clinical results here and there, but they’ve gradually mastered this method to the point of it becoming a non-issue with movies like this; Ride Your Wave being Yuasa’s most standard offering to boot meant that he didn’t even try to rely with on his most unique acquaintances in the first place, and the mastery of the tech has gotten rid of the unnaturally even movement that plagued acting scenes in some prior Science Saru efforts. While you’d still be able to tell it’s a Flash-based production very quick, that’s mostly due to harmless quirks of the tools — Yuasa’s having so much fun with extreme zooming in and out of scenes, now that scenes like that are feasible for his team, that there’s no way he’ll quit.
Above everything else though, there’s the matter of efficiency. That’s a scary term to hear about in regards to working conditions, since it’s one of the excuses that executives love to use to explain why exploiting their workers is the way forward, but in this case it’s a much more humane matter. By embracing this path and gradually improving their usage of Flash for over 5 years (before Science Saru was even founded) they’ve managed to establish a tremendously efficient pipeline that allows their small team to produce a large number of titles. All of them polished productions, and yet allowing their staff to lead healthier work lives without obscene overwork; obviously it’s no panacea as everything their small crew can’t handle themselves still gets processed through the rest of the industry’s rotten bowels, but it’s undeniably positive for Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi‘s team.
And that’s why, just as the first early screenings of Ride Your Wave are happening, we’ve gotten the announcement that Yuasa’s new theatrical project Inu-Oh is already slated for 2021. That’s in addition to the Eizouken TV anime — broadcast due 2020 according to the copyright — and the SUPER SHIRO Shin-chan spinoff that Science Saru will also be producing with Yuasa’s supervision. A studio with just a couple dozen employees is allowing their creators to make more anime than ever, maintaining a respectable threshold of quality and without negatively impacting their lives. If you look at it this way, a crew like this making a movie as genuine as Ride Your Wave feels like an inevitability.