Ocean Waves is a 1993 production of Studio Ghibli. The film was proposed and helmed by “The Future Producers of Studio Ghibli,” conceived by the interns of the studio at the time. Ghibli never attempted another production like this again, because it went over budget and didn’t finish on time. The final product ends up being one of those gems that’s overshadowed by the more popular works of the studio, and somewhat falls into obscurity because of its position in the catalog.
Directed by Mochizuki Tomomi, who also directed the splendid Kimagure Orange Road movie, of which there are a few stylistic similarities, the film captures the human relationships with a simple touch that brings their personalities to the forefront. Backgrounds are good, and character design crisp with realistic colors, and simple lines. Dialect plays a fairly large part in the script, along with other regional differences that help solidify the love triangle the film is about.
The story starts with Matsuno Yutaka and Morisaki Taku meeting the beautiful transfer student Mutou Rikako. Transferring into their seaside town in Kochi from Tokyo, Rikako is very much a fish out of water. She doesn’t quite fit in and has difficulty getting the grasp on the dialect of the region. Yutaka immediately takes a liking to her, and Taku is struck by her beauty and the mystery behind her transfer. The school trip takes the whole class to Hawaii where Taku and Rikako actually have their first conversation. Rikako gets Taku to lend her some money because she lost hers. Later on we find that Rikako uses that money to go visit her father in Tokyo. Taku tags along on that trip, which kick starts their relationship in a very platonic way. The trip to Tokyo strains Yutaka and Rikako’s relations due to the rumors that swirl around school. After various events all three end up in different colleges.
In watching this I had so many wonderful thoughts about this film that I ended up picking a few to share. The film is short, but has so much occurring in its little over an hour runtime. End of Junior High, three years of high school and a bit after high school spans the entire film, but there are great moments that make that hour feel like longer than the whole. To begin, the three meet and it all begins.
Taku is working as a dishwasher in a local restaurant in Kochi when he receives a desperate phone call from his friend Yutaka. Taku is working so he has money for the upcoming school trip to Hawaii, but skips out on work early and runs to meets his friend at school. Yutaka is staring out of the window when Taku arrives. The object of his admiration is the new girl that’s transferring in. The girl is Rikako and is transferring in from Tokyo.
What I love about the opening conversation between the two boys is that there is more to be said from how they’re talking versus what they’re talking about. On the second viewing of the film, I noticed how thick the dialect was, and how important it was to the upcoming relationships. Taku and Yutaka grew up in Kochi, Rikako did not. The impending barrier of the dialect was readily apparent, and comes into play very soon.
Yutaka and Taku end their speculation and pining of Rikako and decide to leave. Yutaka goes on ahead so Taku can get his bike, and stay under the radar of school officials. At the gate, Rikako is there with Yutaka.
The above image represents Taku’s immediate notice of Rikako, so much to the point that Yutaka might as well not even be there. Yutaka introduces them, while trying hard to speak more formally and hide his Kochi accent, and she leaves without saying one word to Taku.
The school takes a trip to Hawaii, which takes the place of the usually schedule Junior High trip to Kyoto. During the trip Rikako has her first conversation with Taku. She reveals that she knows about him through some time she spent with Yutaka. Instead of learning more about him, she asks him to lend her money, because she lost hers.
Not being able to ignore her prodding and her gaze, he loans her a good amount of money. Yutaka shows up and Taku explains her plight, even though he was asked not to. Yutaka talks of the time he spent with Rikako and how talking about Taku and his part time job saved him, when he was on his date with Rikako.
As big of a deal as they made about the school trip in the beginning of the film, they don’t spend a lot of time in Hawaii. What makes this short scene so terribly memorable is Taku’s initial conversation with Rikako. Both of them are very nonchalant about the situation in Hawaii, and instead chat about the divide between Rikako’s Tokyo tendencies and the town’s seemingly backward world. Rikako makes light of the dialect and how it feels like an old samurai drama. Taku’s conversational skills don’t let her get away with it either, and is so matter-of-fact with her that she initially thinks he’s being mean. The cultural divide gets worked out, and the money is lent, even if he gets busted later for telling Yutaka about it. Because he broke her trust, her initial impression of him at the end of the Hawaii trip is not very good.
The Tokyo trip
After Hawaii, Rikako finally makes a friend in school, Kohama Yumi, and they decide to go on a trip to Osaka during Golden Week, but at airport, Rikako changes the plans to go to Tokyo to visit her father. Yumi calls Taku, who shows up and devises a plan to get Yumi out of going, Rikako is not amused. Taku finds out that the money he loaned to Rikako in Hawaii was specifically for this purpose. Since it was his money that bought the tickets anyway, he figures that he’ll accompany Rikako to Tokyo.
So much happens on the trip, but specifically, and most important is the night that Rikako and Taku spend in the hotel room. After arriving, Rikako finds that her life in Tokyo has been supplanted by her father moving on with another woman. Rikako ends up in Taku’s hotel room after a fight with her dad, drinks three rum and Cokes, and promptly passes out.
Taku is a good boy and spends the night in the room’s bathtub. The next day Taku discovers Tokyo and decides that he will go to college in the big city.
The two attempt to go back to a normal life in Kochi, which is not as normal, because rumors unfold, and the two are singled out. The subsequent stress on Taku and Yutaka begins to show. The trip does more than solidify their relationship, it establishes the baseline. Taku won’t buy her old life as an excuse, and she finds that she can no longer lie to him about her life. They return, and promptly ignore each other.
The school festival
In their final year of high school the focus is on the school festival. Before the festival Yutaka confronts Rikako on the rumors about her and Taku. She comes out with it, and he confesses to her. She can’t handle it and tells him off in a very mean way. Taku and Rikako have a slap fight over Yutaka in front of their class, which further isolates Rikako, and buries herself in her studies, skipping all festival activities.
The festival comes and the girls in class decide to tell off Rikako for not helping. When Taku comes across this, he does nothing and stands around the corner listening to the altercation. After the girls leave, Taku finds a dejected Rikako. In his largest moment of naiveté he completely misreads the situation as her being strong and telling the girls how it is. He gets slapped again, really hard. She runs off, crying. Yutaka comes around the corner and confronts him now as well. Again, he just kind of brushes it off as Rikako being strong. Yutaka punches him, really hard, because he didn’t help her. He finally realizes that he should have helped her, and that she probably wanted to be helped.
At the cost of his friendship with Yutaka and anything he had with Rikako, Taku finally gets what his relationship with Rikako means. He loses everything, and he’s alone for the rest of the year. Taku goes to college in Tokyo, Yutaka in Osaka, and Rikako surprisingly stays in Kochi.
A year later, and actually at the beginning of the film, Taku is standing at a train platform in Tokyo, when he sees a familiar face on the other side, resembling Rikako. Passing it off as nothing, he goes home for his High School reunion.
Yutaka picks him up from the airport, and the two chat about the events during the school festival, Taku admits he did what he did for Yutaka’s sake because he knew of his love for Rikako, but all of that is too late now, as Taku is in love with her and has lost her.
The two go to the party, and Rikako’s old friend comes in and talks of a recent meeting with Rikako in Tokyo. They reminisce and Rikako wants to see “someone who likes to sleep in bathtubs,” while she’s there.
Taku goes back to Tokyo, and again sees the familiar face on the other side of the platform, with the train approaching. He notices her, runs down the stairs, up the stairs on the other side. The train departure bell rings, and the train leaves. He turns around and sees her standing there, the wind blows, and she bows:
“And that’s when I knew, I’d always been crazy about her.”
Possibly my favorite line ever uttered in anime.
Thus ends one of my now favorite anime films. I don’t keep lists, but this has solidified itself in my heart as a favorite. The patent simplicity of the film and the focus of the story itself make for a riveting love story, with appropriate drama.
When I think back on the film, I feel like the pacing was just about perfect. Paced to pack in more than three years of time in a little over an hour is somewhat of a challenge. Focus on dialogue was foremost in the film, with visuals and music there to support when needed. The few points I picked out above only highlight my favorite moments. There’s more to it, and personally recommend a watch to see it all. This film is a labor of love.
There is no domestic US release, so if you want to see it, you need to find it in fansubs. If you live in the UK and Australia, you should be able to find it at your favorite anime outlet.