Another very rare Studio Ghibli film is finally coming to the states as director Tomomi Mochizuki’s “Ocean Waves” is opening for audiences anxious to visit the lesser known entries in the Ghibli catalogue. “Ocean Waves” is described as one of the very few movies not made by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki and has rarely ever been seen outside of Japanese television. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Saeko Himuro, “Ocean Waves” is a short (At barely eighty minutes) but very well realized teen drama about two teenage boys hopelessly enamored by a gorgeous young girl named Rikako, who is often given to flights of fancy and adventurousness that allow the two friends Taku and Yutaka a chance to break free from the monotony of their busy school lives.
When the beautiful Rikako transfers in to their school, the boys are shocked by her sudden rise up the ranks in grades, as well as her ability to play sports. She’s an often isolated and uninvolved young girl who begins to get a lot of difficulty by the other girls who view her as a threat, especially since she’s not very concerned with school spirit. Along the way Yutaka and Taku get to know her individually, and she pulls Taku in to her complicated life as he meets her in Tokyo for a complicated weekend where she expresses frustration with a repressive home life and classmates from her old town she suddenly realizes she doesn’t like anymore.
A lot of “Ocean Waves” is based around the school politics and social themes mostly present within the Japanese and Tokyo social structure. In particular, Rikako’s weekend with Taku especially opens her and him up to a lot of very scandalous school rumors, prompting a lot more scrutiny toward Rikako. This complicates matters even further between the trio of teenagers. The movie is first and foremost a tale of teen love, a very complicated love triangle, and unique very flawed characters, all of whom are victim to their conflicted emotions that aren’t so easy to resolve. As a fan of teen dramas and melodrama, I found “Ocean Waves” very entertaining and compelling, and loved how very unique the film played.
It’s not too many teen dramas that fast forwards years later to continue the characters’ arcs. The colors are particularly very soft with a lot of interesting shades of pinks and blues. “Ocean Waves” is much more simplistic and down to Earth from other Ghibli films. Hardcore fans expecting “Spirited Away” will be better off going in to this interesting teen drama looking for something more in the arena of “Whisper of the Heart.”
Will begin playing at the IFC Center in New York on December 28th, and will play at the Los Angeles Egyptian Theater for one night only, with a new 4K restoration. Look for “Ocean Waves” on home video in the spring of 2017.