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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ride Your Wave (in Japanese with English subtitles) is a visually stunning and emotionally satisfying -- if quite sad -- animated romance. The movie is notable for its feminist messages. Hinako (voiced by Rina Kawaei) is a surfer who lives an independent life; she and Minato (Ryôta Katayose), a firefighter, meet after he admires her surfing and calls her his "hero." They slowly fall in love over the course of the movie, holding hands, kissing, and talking of a future together. In one scene it appears that they're nude, but no sensitive body parts are shown. A tragic event alters the course of the movie; viewers don't see the death, but they do see emergency vehicles on the beach and watch loved ones grieving at length. In other scenes, a building catches on fire (no one is injured), and a young boy almost drowns (he flails and sinks beneath the water, but he's rescued). Characters demonstrate impressive perseverance and courage, giving praise to those whose hard work and determination yield visible results. They're also supportive of each other, like when a man makes an awkward girl feel better about not "fitting in" by reassuring her that it's enough to just be herself. There's no drinking or drug use, although someone asks a character whether she's "on drugs" when it's believed she's hallucinating (no, she answers emphatically). Language is confined to one "damn it" and a use of "morons."
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What's the story?
From director Masaaki Yuasa (The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl; Devilman Crybaby), RIDE YOUR WAVE is a tale of love, grief, and self-discovery. Minato (voiced by Ryôta Katayose) is a handsome firefighter who admires university student Hinako (Rina Kawaei) as she surfs the waves in the small seaside town where they both live. When Hinako's building catches on fire, the pair meet and start to fall in love. But when Minato and Hinako are tragically separated, Hinako is hit so hard that she no longer wants to even go near the ocean. There's just one magical way the star-crossed lovers can be together. But Hinako soon learns she must let Minato go in order to move on with her life.
Is it any good?
Beautiful and gripping (if too sad for sensitive or younger kids), this anime film has a satisfying emotional arc and absolutely gorgeous visuals. The first notice viewers get that they're in for a unique love story arrives in the first few minutes, as Hinako swirls joyously through the ocean's waves while Minato watches wistfully from the top of his fireman's tower. When a friend asks what Minato is looking at, Minato replies dreamily that the woman out on the water is his hero. Wait, what? In American movies, women watch men admiringly, not the other way around. What a delightful romantic departure to see a woman providing the action, with a man responsible for the admiration. Minato does get his chance to play the hero, too, and then we watch as our leads, slowly, slowly spend more time together: cooking on the beach, going out for coffee or tea, stumbling through Minato's first surfing lessons.
Then something terrible happens, as it will, in life and in movies, and Ride Your Wave becomes something else: a portrait of a woman learning to live again after a tragedy, to pick up the pieces of her life and go on. Part of Hinako wants to look backward, where Minato was always there to hold her hand and keep her safe. But with time and the support of friends, both her own childhood ones and Minato's loved ones who rally around, Hinako starts to find her way. It's a sad but ultimately fulfilling story, shot through with incredible visuals. Yuasa seems to have a particular affinity for showing patterns of light: fireworks exploding in a clear sky, sun-dappled water, the shadows thrown by the revolving red light on the front of firetrucks. It's a fitting visual metaphor for Hinako's journey through a long, dark tunnel of grief and back into the light.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether movies like Ride Your Wave are more accessible when dubbed or if they're better in their native language with subtitles. Which do you prefer, and why? Is it hard for you to follow the action via subtitles? Would it be difficult for a new or less confident reader?
Japanese anime films are known for offering alternatives to mainstream Hollywood movies. What sets them apart from animated movies made in the United States? Why do you think Japanese animation is appealing to viewers?
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