The house in the waves is the new film by Hiroyasu Ashida where the Japanese tradition and the fantastic give life to an unusual coming of age.
With The house in the waves Japanese director Hiroyasu Ishida returns after three years from his latest animated film. Acclaimed thanks to his debut film Penguin Highway, Ishida takes advantage of the most classic styles of Japanese animation in a whole new way.
The boundless imaginations of children quickly become reality when Kosuke, Natsume and their friends find themselves in an underwater world where buildings have become islands floating in an immense sea whose end is never seen. Between fantasy and a phantasmagoric opening, The house in the waves – available on Netflix from September 16 2022 – is a coming-of-age tale that embraces magical realism to deal with delicate issues such asgrieving and fear of change.
The house in the waves is a coming-of-age tale with a bitter aftertaste
Kosuke And Natsume they spent their childhood in an old condominium complex that will soon be demolished. That summer is the last in which the two protagonists can enjoy the view of those crumbling buildings, full of memories and become a real attraction for all the children of the area. To attract them – and to frighten the demolition workers – is there legend that those buildings are haunted by the presence of a child. The surreal element is thus introduced, tracing one of the most famous tropes of Japanese folklore.
During one of the last days before the summer vacation, Kosuke and his friends sneak into the palace, determined to capture the ghost. Inside the boy’s old apartment, they find Natsume curled up in a closet.
The game soon turns into a quarrel with the mutual grudges of the two boys at the center, while the rain, inexplicably, engulfs the city.
The palace takes on the connotations of a real character, cradle damaged of a friendship that has turned into a relationship held up only by the constant quarrels and childhood memories that Natsume and Kosuke bitterly share in that artificial island in which the group of protagonists remain trapped.
A mystery fantasy adventure, Hiroyasu Ishida’s film is a coming-of-age which deals with unusual topics for a coming-of-age story. The growth of the two protagonists takes place through forgiveness, the elaboration of mourning and learning to welcome change even when it’s scary. The house in the waves makes interpersonal relationships its spearhead, friendship the key value to be able to overcome difficulties.
Incommunicability and emotional growth are the narrative engine of The house in the waves
The dynamics of the group are dictated by the inability to communicate that derives from a difficult past shared by Kosuke and Natsume. The two had to say goodbye to their childhood well ahead of timea youth sanctioned by a family tragedy that prevented him from living childhood like their classmates, addicted to games, to the whims typical of that age and to being together. The maturity of the two protagonists and the childish spirit of the other boys is divisive.
A deeper psychological arc is dedicated to the two, which soon becomes the narrative engine of The house in the waves. If for Natsume and Kosuke the transition between childhood and adolescence is characterized by both emotional and psychological growththis does not happen for the rest of the group that remains in the shade.
The house in the waves it’s a combination of complex situations alternating with tender and pleasant moments, of intense but necessary emotions, reflections and teachings that are universal and not linked only to a specific target. Hiroyasu Ishida’s film is designed for a young audience who can easily grasp the references to the typical structure of a Japanese animated film today and feel empathy and a feeling of sharing with the characters, but the vision of The house in the waves it is not limited to a model viewer as it is a film that has a lot to teach adults too.
The parallels with Penguin Highway and the beginning of director Ishida’s career
The rhythm and atmosphere of The house in the waves call to mind Penguin Highwayanimated film by the same director released in 2018.
In both films, a seemingly ordinary plot transforms the protagonists’ everyday life into an adventure with fantastic features, in which the setting goes hand in hand with the characterization of the characters. But above all in both films, water plays a main role in the story that goes from being a narrative element to being treated as a real character – like the dilapidated building – which guides the destiny of the characters.
In two of Ishida’s feature films, as we have seen, there are various recurring graphic and narrative elements and it is thanks to these similarities and shared elements that the director is slowly making his way towards a unique style.
The aesthetics of The house in the waves reminiscent of the most classic Japanese animation, but still characterized by a type of contemporary design style accentuated thanks to the skilful use of CGI employed for the most dynamic scenes. To these are added the supernatural atmospheres which are, however, attenuated by lighter tones. The film takes its time to reveal the cards in its hand, to lead the viewer in the direction he wants to go.
Slowness as a strength of The house in the waves
The prologue and the central partale are slow, dedicated to getting to know the characters when they are not shaken by any kind of external event. It is in those moments that Ishida continues to focus attention on Natsume’s broken soul and her feeling of her always inadequate and unwanted and on Kosuke’s grudge. It is in these moments that the musical interludes composed by Umitaro Abe exploit their full potentialgiving a lively rhythm that prevents you from falling into boredom.
The same task belongs to the assembly which contrasts with the slow narrative: the short shots mix with a sense of urgency when the situation on the moving island becomes extreme and risky for its inhabitants. Intelligent expedients used to counteract a certain static in the setting and try to make the huge expanse of water that the kids have around them captivating, but also dangerous.
The characters, who all have the unmistakable trait of Studio Colorido, move in realistic spaces, expertly designed both from a purely aesthetic and functional point of view. This is combined with the visual rendering of some elements that are very difficult to achieve: first of all the water, but above all the perfectly animated rain that inspires a strong sense of danger, thus creating a third final act full of the exciting events that are missing in the central part. The house in the waves it’s a coming-of-age from the typical Japanese cinematic features in which the slowness and the phantasmagoric parable have a lot to tell.