In the 1990s, Walt Disney picked up the American distribution rights to a bunch of Studio Ghibli films and TV movies, and then sat on them. But, Ghibli will not be denied. Since the 2012 “Castles in the Sky” retrospective, many of the unseen and unsung Ghibli films are seeing their long-awaited American releases, mainly as GKIDS have picked up the slack. Last year, Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel voiced the English language cast for Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday. But, this year’s release of Tomomi Mochizuki’s Ocean Waves is subtitled only.
Like Only Yesterday, Ocean Waves is a sentimental flashback bildungsroman following an adolescent boy as he experience opposite-sex romance for the first time. On a train platform in Tokyo, Taku sees a woman he once knew. A few years ago, in high school, this woman interrupted his life and sent him on a different path.
Back in high school, Taku was a hard working student who barely had enough time for school and his job. His grades were starting to fail, but he needed the money so he could afford to go on the school field trip to Hawaii. His best friend Yutaka is clever and smart and has better luck with the girls. Enter the woman. Rikako is a new transfer student to their school, she’s smart, funny, good at sports…and both boys fall in love with her. And Rikako knows it.
Ghibli’s plan was to used Ocean Waves as an inexpensive practice film for their younger animators, but the production ran over schedule and over budget. The style owes a massive amount of debt to Only Yesterday, taking the deceptively innocent style of feminine memory and turning it into a more masculine and blunt graphic style. The backgrounds are just a little more blunt, the people are a little disjointed, and everything is just a little more amateur. Considering the plot is a little more of a stereotypical “girl comes between two best friends” type story, the style matches the plot rather than enhances it. Ocean Waves is far more familiar than the usual Ghibli fare, but it has a difficult-to-find tenderness that resonates beyond its simplicities.
Ocean Waves was released on blu-ray and DVD this week.