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Ghibli Bits: OCEAN WAVES Was a Valiant First Effort

Ghibli Bits: OCEAN WAVES Was a Valiant First Effort

As anyone who’s followed the output of Japan’s famed animation house, Studio Ghibli, will know, their films tend to exist in that perfect cross-section of magic and reality. The physics and geography of their films are very grounded, while even the true-to-life films have a sense of the fairy tale about them. By the early ’90s, there had already been six films, all by the studio’s two creative founders, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but they were about to cross a new threshold: in 1993, Ghibli produced a TV movie called Ocean Waves, their first directed by someone else. Now finally getting a release in North America, the movie is…fine.

While every Ghibli film is worth watching–even the much-derided Tales from Earthsea directed by Goro Miyazaki–there’s certainly a hierarchy. I had hoped, perhaps naively, that Ocean Waves would be a lost gem that I’d get to trumpet loudly “it’s the best Studio Ghibli film you’ve never seen!” the way I did in 2015 when Isao Takahata’s 1991 film Only Yesterday was finally released over here. This wasn’t to be, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value in Ocean Waves, the 72-minute teenage romantic drama directed by Tomomi Mochizuki from a novel by Saeko Himuro.

Ocean Waves is told in flashback by Taku Morisaki as he heads back to his hometown for a high school reunion of sorts, two years after leaving for college. Taku’s best friend Yutaka has a crush on a peculiar new girl in school, Rikako, who is not like other girls he knows (because she speaks her mind and doesn’t care what people think…a novel idea). Taku begins spending time with Rikako and helping her with various crises she has, trying to be a good friend to both her and Yutaka. They grow closer and further away like the tides of the ocean, not fully realizing how much they mean to each other.

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There’s certainly nothing wrong with the way the movie is told. In fact, it’s a well-paced and compelling enough yarn, full of teen angst and confusion. There’s something undeniably watchable and endearing about the way Taku and Rikako spark off each other and the sheer befuddlement on the part of the young man after pretty much everything she does is delightful. It’s not a story that feels like it needs more than its brief 72 minutes, and even allows some ponderous longeurs of the youths looking pensively at the water.

What’s perhaps most impressive about the movie is, like all Ghibli productions, the visuals. Since this movie not only takes place in contemporary Japan, but in major cities, a huge attention to modern details needed to be paid, and is. This was Ghibli’s attempt to do a “regular” anime, and while the characters still have the distinctive look, the backgrounds and scenery are attempting to be almost geometrically perfect, to which the pinkish light of the sun bouncing off the ocean water can be applied for the closest thing the movie has to anything dreamlike.

And it’s this where Ocean Waves really stands out–it has nothing like the kind of magical quality of the Ghibli films before or after. The closest analog is Only Yesterday, but that has a distinct elegiac sense of a person remembering her youth. The glow of childhood is all over the flashback scenes there, with a bit of the lead character’s memories bleeding into her current life. Ocean Waves is a very straightforward story told very straightforwardly. Nothing wrong with it, but it certainly stands out for it.

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Ocean Waves opens in New York on December 28 with it coming to LA sometime thereafter before getting a Blu-ray and digital release from GKIDS in 2017. It’s worth a watch, definitely, as it finally completes the Ghibli full picture, but anyone expecting a new Miyazaki movie will be left wanting.

3.5 out of 5 burritos
3.5-burritos1

Images: Studio Ghibli


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s the writer of Studio Ghibli retrospectives Miyazaki Masterclass and Takahata Textbook. Follow him on Twitter!

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