Studio Ghibli Explores 90s Teen Romance in ‘Ocean Waves’
Released for television in 1993, Studio Ghibli’s Ocean Waves has just found its way across the ocean thanks to film distributor, GKIDS. It holds a special place in the Studio Ghibli library, being the studio’s first anime not to be helmed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. As a result, Ocean Waves provided a fresh opportunity for the studio’s younger creators.
Told mostly in flashback, Ocean Waves reflects on the adolescence of Taku (Nobuo Tobita) and his uneasy relationship with new student, Rikako (Yōko Sakamoto). A transfer from Tokyo, she doesn’t socially integrate that well into Kōchi culture. While she’s a whiz at both academics and sports, the local deem her rather arrogant. Taku’s best friend, Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) is immediately smitten with her, causing tension between the two friends. It’s your classic love triangle teetering on soap opera at times. He’s the nice guy. She’s the new fish in town with an attitude.
While lightweight on storytelling, director Tomomi Mochizuki unfolds the narrative more as a slice-of-life tale over its breezy 72 minute run time. As Ocean Waves begins, one begins to wonder what type of ride this film is taking its audience. For a while, there’s no shame in questioning whether or not we are watching a love story unfold. Students are fighting with administration over a cancelled field trip to Hawaii. But it’s primarily Taku and Yutaka leading the disagreement charge. It’s not until Rikako enters the picture that the waves of romance begin to crash.
Ocean Waves has no trouble poignantly reminding its audience of the sins of our youth. The anime triggers plenty of lingering questions. How did we treat others during that superficial limbo called adolescence? How exactly is loved defined and acted upon with so many raging hormones out of check? As Taku reflects, he’s able to look back at the good and the bad, sorting memories out. There’s no disguising that high school romance can be hurtful, confusing and even messy at times. Thanks for drudging up old memories.
On countless occasions, Taku should definitely be slapping himself for letting Rikako treat him the way she did. On a school trip, she loses an excess amount of money. Taku bails her out, loaning his extra work money with repayment nowhere in the near future. Later on, he’s dragged on a trip to Tokyo, taking her friend’s place who had been tricked into going. Wake up, guy. Taku’s a good kid, but there’s no concrete explanation why he subjects himself to this. Perhaps we’re supposed to draw upon our own youthful experiences of love-hate relationships.
Ocean Waves stays more grounded than a good portion of the Studio Ghibli library. It feels no real reason to cut itself from the same flashy, layered cloth as other Ghibli animes. We’re not out expecting the magic and metaphors of studio staples such as Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. Instead, we’re treated to a conventional portrait of teenage romance. Sure, it’s been 24 years since its release and comes from an ocean away, but this sort of love needs no translation.
As a made for television feature, the visuals aren’t entirely compromised in Ocean Waves. The level of detail is taken aback a few steps as a result. However, there remains a subtle charm to its approach. If you weren’t aware this film originated from 1993, the visual aesthetics are hardly a real indication for a contemporary audience.
Ocean Waves may be one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser-known entries, but it rightfully still has a place in the ranks. Mature and poignant, it’s an empathetic love story that surely blossoms out of a sea of realism.