Ocean Waves

My personal interest in Ocean Waves is a story on its own: for the longest time, I never thought I’d get to see it, let-alone own it. It remained that one elusive entry in Studio Ghibli’s library, to the point where I didn’t even think it counted as an official film. Then last year, right as I’d nabbed all of their canonical films, Ocean Waves was announced for an official release on home video sometime in 2017, courtesy of GKids. So I purchased it on Amazon…only to hold off watching it once it arrived for nearly a month. Now that I’ve given it a viewing, I think it’s only fair to review it for Infinite Rainy Day.

Ocean Waves tells the story of two friends, Taku Morisaki and Yutaka Matsuno, and their high school friendship/relationship with a girl named Rikako Muto. Initially that “weird, new girl at school”, Taku eventually warms up to Rikako and begins taking an unhealthy interest in her personal life, a fact Rikako exploits by over-relying on him for money and emotional support. It eventually gets to the point where Rikako’s over-dependance causes friction in the relationship between Taku and Yutaka, forcing the three of them to drift apart. It isn’t until university that the three make amends for their past behaviour, reconcile their true feelings and, ultimately, look toward the future.

If it sounds like this is the bare-minimum in a romance thesis, that’s because it is. Clocking in at roughly 72-minutes, the film’s not all that deep or emotionally gripping narratively. That’s not to say it’s not interesting, because it is, but it’s not winning awards compared to the more elaborate romance in Studio Ghibli works like Whisper of the Heart and From Up On Poppy Hill. In truth, the film’s less about the narrative, which plays out like a ballad in film form, and more about the experience. You’re supposed to be in the shoes of Taku as he narrates his past, right up until his friendships with Yutaka and Rikako fall apart, as well as in the present when he fixes everything. To ignore that would ruin the intent.

Technically, Ocean Waves isn’t exactly the most-impressive. It’s well-scored by Shigeru Nagata, but there are times where the music overtakes the dialogue instead of complimenting it. It looks good for a TV-film, but even with the budget having, allegedly, gone over allotments it’s still nothing to sneeze at compared to Studio Ghibli’s theatrical entries. Even the direction, from then-newcomer Tomomi Mochizuki, isn’t all that special, with maybe one or two brilliant camera moments amidst a sea of okay ones. It begs the question of why this film needed to be animated, something I never thought I’d ask of even Studio Ghibli’s less-fantastical works.

Fortunately, the saving grace is its characters. Are they deep? Not really. But they get the job done, which is more than I expected from this movie based on initial impressions. So kudos to that, I suppose?

Perhaps the most-interesting facet of said characters is the dynamic between Taku, Yutaka and Rikako. In 72-minutes, you get a feel for who each of these three really are: Taku is opinionated, yet also somewhat judgemental. Yutaka is more reserved and clear-headed than Taku, even sometimes seeing what Taku refuses to. And Rikako is much quieter than both of them, yet whenever she opens up to people it’s usually out of desperation or frilliness. In his now yanked video review on the film, Jacob Chapman compared Rikako to a more realistic version of Haruhi Suzumiya, and it’s not hard to see why. Because she has that shallow, manipulative vibe, yet it’s not without warrant given her family background and distrust of others. She’s more sympathetic, basically.

But perhaps the film’s biggest detriment, in my opinion, is a lack of a dub. I’ve already expressed my frustration with subtitles in the past, even rebutting common complaints lobbed at dubs, and not having one here made it harder to fully-appreciate the movie. I mean, the Japanese acting seemed fine, I can’t tell because I don’t speak the language, but forcing myself to over-concentrate on subtitles meant pulling me out of the experience somewhat. Besides, why not have a dub? I guess it had to do with timing and the inability to find actors for the roles, but if Disney was willing to do it for even their direct-to-DVD efforts then why not GKids? It’d help with the accessibility of the film to a larger audience, so it’s really suspicious.

All that being said, is Ocean Waves worth your time? I suppose. It’s not a grand fantasy like Hayao Miyazaki’s works are, nor is it as packed with content as Studio Ghibli’s other more grounded dramas. It’s simply a vehicle for the studio’s then-up-and-coming talent in the animation, directing and producing categories, a fitting irony given that both Tomomi Michizuki’s future ended up being outside of Studio Ghibli and none of the talent involved really mattered in the grand scheme. It’s simply a high-end TV movie that also happens to have Studio Ghibli’s name on it. If that’s enough to entice you to check it out, then by all means go ahead. If not, well…I can’t say it’s the worst that the studio has done, that title still belongs to Tales from Earthsea, but it’s not an immediate must-see like some of their best.

(By the way, as a side-note, the DVD also includes the never-before-seen The Ghiblies Episode 2, which I’d, funnily enough, never heard of. I should get on watching that, no?)


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