By Jonathan Clements.
“For its emotional effect and its deep meaning, its polish and its heart, the jury confers this year’s Judges Award on Ride Your Wave by Masaaki Yuasa.” Not a sentence that I ever expected to be reading out to an Edinburgh crowd, who gasped with surprise, and then burst into applause.
And thereby hangs a tale, not least the Festival Jury Chairman wondering if he is going to be dropped through the trap door into the piranha tank, after the odds-on favourite, Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You, was consigned to second place at Scotland Loves Anime 2019, pipped at the post by an outside contender about a surfer girl and her lost love.
The politics of festival juries are intensely complex, born not only of the particular films in competition in any given year, but by the composition of the jury itself, and whatever personal criteria they bring to their deliberations. Past juries at Scotland Loves Anime have included festival runners and academics, animators and post-production technicians, cinema programmers and critics, all of whom are free to argue for the value of each film on the basis of their own skills and experience. In October 2019, an animator-heavy jury was split over the relative technical merits of several films in competition, leeching votes away from the favourite until what would have otherwise been a tie for first place put Ride Your Wave ahead by a single vote.
Freya Allan, arriving fresh from toiling on animation clean-up for the award-winning feature Klaus, admitted to being one of the three jurors moved to tears by the film. The lone non-weeper, Jack Liang from Polygon Pictures, found the film to be “more commercial” than Yuasa’s previous works, echoing comments overheard among cinema audiences that it was less idiosyncratically a Masaaki Yuasa film, and hence something that, as the director himself had admitted in press interviews, a work with a wider potential appeal.
The film’s leading champion in jury negotiations was India Swift, animator and director at Knights of the Light Table, who commented that: “Visually, [Ride Your Wave] was wonderful. It was great to see a film made in Flash that was so well-done. The way that it was boarded and animated was imaginative, creative. The shots all felt like they had a lot of meaning behind them. The premise was a lot of fun and the character acting was very nuanced. You learned a lot about each of the characters because of the little moments they had with one another.”
Her colleague at Knights of the Light Table, the colourist and art director Michael Doig, was similarly taken with the film. “I liked that a lot of their experiences together are fragmented through both of their timelines,” he said. “Like the song is a recurring theme, but it’s playing when he was rescued by her. And it’s through this back-and-forth rescuing of one another that they’ve built this relationship that transcends both their lives.”
Doig also drew attention to the character development below the surface. “It set up a lot of expectations for them as characters that were then broken down, and we got to see who they truly were as the film progressed,” he added. “It set up the male character as being this hero; everyone admires him and he makes everything seem so effortless, but it goes behind that and shows: no, he had to work harder than everyone else, because he struggles, too. And I thought that was a really nice lesson to show audiences that as much as you can see the surfaces of other people, until you get to see their pasts and how they struggled, too, you can become more comfortable with yourself if you are struggling as well. And that really connected with me, because I thought it was a nice lesson to pass on to audiences.”
Ride Your Wave will be released in the UK by Anime Limited.