“I’ll be here until you’re able to ride those waves alone.”
Several years ago, I attended a family wedding in Hawai’i. The trip ran through my birthday, and as if a vacation to paradise wasn’t enough, I was gifted a ticket for a surfing lesson. I was excited and terrified at the same time—compounded by the usual trepidation I feel at trying new things was a fear of the ocean, jellyfish, and sharks. But I had excellent instructors who told me exactly what I needed to know, and who patiently watched me and told me exactly what I needed to hear.
In that way, I felt much like Minato from the excellent film, Ride Your Wave. He’s novice to surfing, but guided by expert Hinako on their first date, he learns bit by bit how to conquer this challenge.
But this sweet, beachside romance from Masaaki Yuasa, the director of the disaster drama Japan Sinks: 2020 and the inspiring and creative Keep Your Hands off Eizouken, isn’t about Minato learning to ride the waves; it’s about Hinako doing the same (spoilers ahead). Although infused with a supernatural dimension, the story stays afloat because it’s founded on a powerful definition of love, the kind we should see demonstrated in all sorts of relationships—not only romantically, but with our parents and even in faith.
As the film opens, 19-year-old Hinako is settling into a seaside town, with romance being the furthest thing on her mind. Her love is the beach, and especially surfing. With that in mind, she’s eager to find a related career, intending to study oceanography (even though her mom questions her ability to succeed in a science). Meanwhile, from the rooftop of a nearby fire station where they can see her surfing, Minato remarks to his fellow firefighter that Hinako is his hero, without much explanation; later, though, it appears the opposite is true when he saves her from a quickly spreading fire in her building.
Soon, a romance blossoms, with the patient and caring Minato making a perfect match for the good-natured if irresponsible Hinako. He teaches her all about the wonders of coffee; and as mentioned, she teaches him how to surf. But unbeknownst to her, Minato also practices on his own. During one of these excursions, he notices that a young man has fallen off his jet ski and is missing in the waves. Naturally, the firefighter swims out after him, but sadly succumbs to the rough waters and drowns.
Hinako is devastated and unable to even start the process of recovery. She’s become dependent on the man who said he would always be by her side. Then, something most unusual happens—whenever Minato sings “Brand New Story,” a tune that the two would sing together in the past, she sees an image of Minato in whatever water is around her—a puddle, a glass, even the toilet. She is eventually able to interact with Minato, who is unsure himself why he’s there except perhaps because of the promise that he would remain by her side whenever she needs him. Unable to function without him, Hinako takes Minato everywhere, first by a clear thermos bottle and later with a transparent, water-filled porpoise. One place she can’t find the courage to go, however, is to the ocean; she no longer has the desire to surf, despite his wish that she do so.
I’m personally not much of a surfer—that initial experience remains my only one. But it left such a deep imprint on me that I consider surfing to be a part, now, of who I am. Those couple of hours in the waves was a memorable experience, at once the most physically demanding activity I had ever done and the most exhilarating. My experience was actually far better than Minato’s first afternoon trying. Although he’s very athletic, Minato has difficulties—the movie later explains that what seems to be “talent” in Minato is rather a strong work ethic, but I think he is challenged, also, because Hinako is not a natural teacher and doesn’t know how to properly instruct him. My own lesson only took five minutes, but it apparently was grade A because I only fell the first time I tried; during every other attempt, I caught the wave and surfed calmly back toward shore.
Now, I didn’t do anything fancy tricks in my hour or two of surfing, nor was it like I was entirely on my own. I’m no prodigy. An instructor told me just when I needed to build momentum to catch the wave and ride on it. It was frightening, Yet soon enough, I didn’t need the teachersto tell me when to get on my board. I learned and I tried on my own, and was able to ride those waves.
Minato eventually doesn’t need Hinako to teach him, either. In fact, on the day he dies, it’s after he’s practiced doing these incredible flips on the ocean. Minato has become an expert in surfing on his own. But all this time, he had hid these practices from Hinako. For what reason?
He does explain why a bit later in the movie after he’s become a ghost, but I think some of the explanation can be inferred as well. Hinako is overly reliant on him, as evidenced by an inability to make it on her own after he passes. She even drags the life-size blow-up porpoise all over the island, making it accompany her to coffee, on the bus, and to karaoke; she can’t do anything without Minato, or so she thinks. Like how he conquers the waves, Minato wants to show Hinako that she, too, can learn to ride the waves of life. She can make it on her own. As she once told Minato herself, “Even if you fall, you just have to get up and ride the next wave.”
But it’s not easy, and neither does Minato push her too hard. He continues to stay by her side, even when she’s a wreck. In that way, Minato is much like a good parent. He is there whenever she needs him to be, loving and supporting her through the struggle, picking her up when she fails, and caring for her even when she chooses not to even try. But he also won’t continue to let her drown in a puddle; Minato encourages Hinako, and gently and patiently pushes her to get over him and grow.
But growth for Hinako means getting over him. “New waves will come in,” Minato explains. He’s just one of many that she’ll need to ride on.
There are hints that Minato is not entirely happy with what he’s doing. He emphasizes over and over that his wish is to remain with Hinako forever, and becomes jealous when a “real life” boy is able to touch her hand and assist Hinako after she takes a tumble. But he moves forward because doing so means loving Hinako, eventually making one final rescue to save her physically, even as she calls for him to do so, knowing that she’ll like never see him again afterwards and fully realizing her need to be saved emotionally.
For believers, the story is familiar, and should remind them of faith. Like Minato, Christ wasn’t happy with what would transpire for him to share his love to its fullest extent, but as our lover, as the groom to the church, he would give fully of himself to provide to us the salvation we needed. As a parent, God loves us as we are, but simultaneously encourages us to become something more, to live life to its fullest extent.
And those waves that come one after another, as Minato explained? God guides us through them and uses them to do a work in us, one that leads us to our highest calling: to love him and to love those around us.
God is never okay with us remaining still and drowning in murky waters. With patience and encouragement, he leads us upwards and over the water We are saved because he gave his life so that we might not drown; and then we’re transformed as he teaches not simply how to tread water, but how to surf. And we won’t be taken under by the waves—as we grow in him, we’ll learn to rise above, as God desires not a reliance like that which Hinako had in Minato, where she was unable to move forward on her own, but a reliance that gives us the ability to do the most amazing things when the waters are at their most stormy. His will is for us to surf toward the horizon with courage and conviction, with a ferocious love that, like his, cannot be stopped, not even by death.
God calls me and you into the life extraordinary. He tells us we need not fear the ocean—just take up your surfboard, trust in him, and do what you were made to do: Ride your wave.
All screen captures courtesy of GKIDS.