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Movie Reviews

Ocean Waves



Reviewed by: Angharad Jones

Released: 5th May 1993

Directed by: Tomomi Mochizuki

Starring: Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Yōko Sakamoto

Certificate: PG

Based on Saeko Himuro’s novel ‘I Can Hear the Sea’, Ocean Waves is probably the least known of all the animations made by Japanese film company Studio Ghibli. Made for television in 1993 and only released into the UK on DVD at the start of 2010, Ocean Waves isn’t what you’d expect if you’re a fan of the studios more widely distributed and more mainstream creations. Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, a non-studio Ghibli animator, one would assume that the studio brought in an outsider who showed talent in making coming-of-age dramas, rather than the studio’s usual fantasy epics, as (when put in simple terms) that’s exactly what the film is; a Japanese coming of age drama. As you would expect it wasn’t as high up the list for western release as say, the magical adventure ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, but eventually the distributors agreed that with the world-wide success of the other films, people would be interested in seeing the entire Studio Ghibli collection.

Told in flashback by the main character as he’s on a plane journey home, Ocean Waves is the story of Taku, a high school student from the quiet coastal town of Kochi on the island of Shikoku. He’s just your average teenager, his days consisting of school, watching TV, working part-time and thinking about where he’ll go to university. His best friend, Yutaka, is every bit as ordinary as he is and together they are just two young adults happy in their current situation. Enter Rikako, a beautiful female student transferred from the bustle of Tokyo to attend their comparatively sleepy rural school. Undertaking the job of showing her around her new school and local area, Yutaka spends a lot of time with Rikako and ends up falling for her fresh-faced good looks. An excellent student, (not to mention an ace tennis player) Rikako quickly makes it very high onto the school’s student rank list, and everyone wants her on their dance and sport teams. As a result of this she quickly becomes somewhat of a celebrity, since it’s not just the boys in her class gossiping about her appearance anymore; it’s the entire year commenting on her every move. Rikako however is arrogant about her achievements and popularity. Whilst she can sometimes be friendly, she carries the air of a slightly selfish and impetuous young lady.

In the thick of the ever mounting Rikako related conversations, Taku, realising his best friend has fallen for the lady in question, is also developing feelings for her. He refrains from making it obvious or pursuing her though, for Yutaka’s sake. Taku doesn’t have any real contact with Rikako until the class trip to Hawaii, during which she asks him to lend her a considerable amount of money, claiming that she lost most of hers. From this point on, Taku hears many stories that indicate there’s more to Rikako’s life than meets the eye, some of which accounts for her sometimes erratic and rude behaviour. The various events that follow serve to teach Taku valuable life lessons about tolerance, friendship and understanding.

The film is great observation on teenage infatuation and alienation, the drama of which isn’t delivered in a soap opera kind of way, but in a much more subtle and charming fashion. Despite being told in a rather simple way, no little detail of a situation is spared, and it’s paced calmly enough for you to take in the plot in a manner that’s close to how it would unfold in real life. It occasionally surprises you with an unexpected turn of events and there are one or two moments of deep insight into the characters conflicting emotions which were certainly the highlights of the film for me. It’s the sort of film there isn’t enough of in cinema, but having said that, overall I felt it was just a bit too flat. There was just something a little lacklustre about it. Maybe it was the fact that it leaves you to fill in the blanks of the characters thoughts rather than have a few more (not unwelcome) seconds of screenplay to explain things more clearly. Watching the film in Japanese w/ subs being the only option, the slight lack of exposed character progression and sometimes awkward conversing couldn’t be the fault of any translation or English dub.

Overall Ocean Waves has its very unique good points, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. Of course we must remember it was made for TV and we should also be a little sympathetic as (assuming the information is correct) the director was at the time struggling between finishing this project and another, which led to him being hospitalised for stress. The fact that it was directed towards a more specific audience than the usual Studio Ghibli features must be acknowledged, but as I consider myself someone who enjoys this type of film, I feel it didn’t quite lived up to my expectations, or other films in the genre. I would however recommend people to watch it purely for it refreshingly insightful approach, but if you’re a big fan of the studios fantasy features and looking to indulge yourselves in cinema of that kind, then this isn’t the film you’re looking for.

25 year old film fanatic who loves rock music, Xbox and cat videos on Youtube. I also tweet @lewisvstheworld

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