Masaaki Yuasa won awards and fans on both sides of the Pacific with his offbeat films “Lu Over the Wall” and “The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.” His latest feature, “Ride Your Wave,” adds an emotional depth to his brightly colored minimal visual style that makes it his most satisfying film to date.
Although she’s a klutz on land, Hinako is a skilled surfer who moves to a small beach town for college. When an illegal fireworks show ignites her apartment building, she’s rescued by first responder Minato. The two characters fall quickly and credibly in love. Minato admires Hinako’s athletic prowess and assures her she will find a way to manage her life as capably as she handles her surfboard. Hinako respects Minato’s selfless commitment to helping others and savors his confidence in her.
When Minato is killed in an accident at sea, Hinako believes she can make him appear in any watery surface by singing their favorite song. When another fire forces Hinako to save herself and Minato’s younger sister Yoko, the apparition of Minato remains by her side in an extravagant clash between flames and water. The disaster makes Hinako realize she must let go of the past. She becomes a capable, independent young woman — and a lifeguard.
“Ride Your Wave” features Yuasa’s signature elongated figures, but the animation is more polished than in his earlier films. Working from a script by Reiko Yoshida (who also wrote the charming “Okko’s Inn”), the filmmakers give Hinako weaknesses and doubts as well as strengths and talents. She’s a more complex, fully realized character than many heroines in recent American features.
“Ride Your Wave” confirms Masaaki Yuasa’s place among the most interesting directors working in animation today.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: 7 p.m., Feb. 19, in general release, Fathom Events; starts Feb. 21, Laemmle Glendale