The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Ocean Waves

Title: Ocean Waves aka Umi ga Kikoeru aka I Can Hear The Sea
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: Ghibli
Format: Movie; 72 minutes.
Dates: 5 May 1993

Synopsis: One afternoon Matsuno Yutaka calls his friend Morisaki Taku to tell him about the new student in his class. She’s beautiful, athletic and smart, but Muto Rikako resents her new home in Kochi and wants nothing to do with the people there, instead longing to return to Tokyo. She quickly isolates herself and, in a pinch, turns to Morisaki for help. He agrees and is quickly caught up in Muto’s plot to return to her previous life. As he gets to know her, Morisaki is not sure he likes what he sees.

The Highlights
Muto: The centre of her universe.
Tone: Never too serious.
Pacing: Feels dragged out.

This entry into the Ghibli repertoire was a bit of an experiment. What if the Ghibli management was to hand a project over to its young talent and see what they did with it? Ocean Waves was produced as a TV movie by such a group with the aim of telling a good story on a tight budget and a tight schedule. Perhaps it is rather fitting that the project went over time and over budget, unintentionally paralleling the youthful conceit present within the story.

Though told through Morisaki Taku’s eyes, Muto is the centre of this story. She deeply resents being taken from her home and friends and spurns her new home in protest. She doesn’t want to be accepted. She doesn’t want to be “like them”. This only leaves her feeling isolated. She vows to suffer through it, her penance for keeping her pride. Throughout the film she is incredibly selfish, doing only that which will directly benefit her and taking advantage of her one friend. Yet to Morisaki, she seems sympathetic. He understands the pain and abandonment she feels during her parents’ divorce when she supported her father and feels like he didn’t support her in return. I think we have all been in that situation where, from our tiny perspective, we are the pitiable victim of circumstances. We feel the whole world should feel sorry for what we have to endure. It is in these moments we learn the truth – that life’s not fair and we are not the centre of the universe. This truth is painted in painful irony when Muto complains to Morisaki about an ex-boyfriend she sees while in Tokyo. He only thinks about himself, she tells Morisaki. He never even bothered to ask her how she was!

Muto is not alone in her self-centred attitude, however. Morisaki shows glimpses of it when he leaves work early, leaves his family at dinner to watch TV and when he disappears for two days without explaining anything to his frantic mother. Another girl at school, probably the class president, tries to “fix” the tension between Muto and her classmates without really trying to understand the situation. This is what makes the last section of the film so important. It takes place a year or so after highschool graduation, when the characters are having a reunion. They have moved on, started university, seen more of the world. It provides a contrast and a more grown-up perspective. Lost in reflection, the former class president observes that back then their worlds were “too small”.

Another important aspect of the film is the friendship between the two male leads. It’s a friendship that stems from mutual respect and beautifully illustrates the unwritten code of the gentlemen not to go after your friend’s crush. Their conversations end up very stilted, with Matsuno trying to discuss Muto and Morisaki desperately trying to change the subject. I wish there had been a few more scenes of these two together.

The story itself moves along quite slowly, as slice-of-life tales are apt to do. It does tend to drag at times and I often got the point of a given scene long before it was over. The tone is never too serious, instead staying fairly lightheaded. This is reflected in the playful music and the soft, simple art style. Both of these worked to highlight the youthfulness of the cast along with the sometimes awkward movement of the characters. The animation here is decent, but not up to the standard of a theatrical Ghibli release. There are a lot of good things happening in this film, but like the characters in the movie, the filmmakers still had a few things to learn. I wonder if the studio considered their experiment a success in the end.

Ocean Waves illustrates a time in our lives when our own worlds consume us, but it also shows that we do eventually realize there is a bigger world out there. If we can get through it, there will be some fantastic people on the other side.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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