Ride Your Wave (PG)
This award-winning Japanese animated film directed by the prolific Masaaki Yuasa is sweet, touching and occasionally rather strange.
Hinako Mukaimizu (voiced by Rina Kawaei) is a 19-year-old has moved to an oceanside to attend university and engage in her favourite pastime, surfing. When a bunch of youths set off illegal fireworks, her apartment building catches fire and she is rescued by Minato Hinageshi (Ryota Katayose), a slightly older fireman who's a bit more grounded than she is. They quickly become friends and hang out together and she teaches him how to surf. Inevitably, they fall in love.
Here's where things get interesting, Minato goes surfing on his own and drowned while rescuing someone else. Hinako is devastated but soon discovers that when she sings "their song", Brand New Story, he manifests himself and they can talk. Fortunately it's quite an appealing number, because we hear the start of it a lot.
There's a touch of the Wonder Twins from the old cartoon Super Friends series in their quasi-aquatic relationship: he turns up anywhere, from a puddle or a transparent inflatable dolphin. More bizarrely, he turns up a toilet and her bathtub (while she is in it) but this is not played for laughs. She befriends Yoko (Honoka Matsumoto), Minato's sharp-tongued sister, and one of Minato's co-workers, Wasabi (Kentaro Ito) but still finds it hard to move on with her life.
The subtitles sometimes make screenwriter Reiko Yoshida's dialogue a bit stilted but the story is interesting - although there are a couple of points where suspension of disbelief is tested - and the characters are appealing. Hinako's feelings of joy and then grief are well depicted and it's easy to understand why she was drawn to the dependable, good-hearted Minato (he is also a good cook). Wasabi is a little underdeveloped but Yoko's bluntness provides a bit of comic relief in this romantic drama.
The subtitles sometimes make screenwriter Reiko Yoshida's dialogue a bit stilted but the story is interesting - although there are a couple of points where suspension of disbelief is tested - and the characters are appealing
The character animation has that distinctive, slightly slow-motion movement a lot of Japanese cartoons do, but the settings are impressive and the perspectives adopted for scenes are often striking and inventive. There's a fine illusion of depth to many of the shots, too.
The animation of flames and water - the two elements that are important literally and thematically in the movie - is eyecatching and the climax of the story is spectacular.
If you're not familiar with Japanese animation this low fantasy, with fantastic elements included in a realistic setting rather than a completely invented world, might be a good place to start. It's highly accessible, not violent and sufficiently different from much Western animation - both in style and setting - to provide a refreshing experience for those who mostly see films by Pixar and other well-known animation houses.