Film Review: Ocean Waves

I’ll be honest and say that Ocean Waves sat on my shelf for a long time. I’m ashamed to say it was due to it being a subtitled film. I generally watch films in the evenings after work and truthfully, my concentration level isn’t high then, so anything subtitled or remotely challenging gets pushed back to ‘another time’, whenever that time may be. I now have a huge pile of films I haven’t seen and am committing to getting as many as possible seen this year. Ocean Waves was one of the first on my list.

My best friend and I love Studio Ghibli films. They are so vibrant and beautiful to look at, creative and innovative with their story-telling and feature any number of kick-ass heroines. Ocean Waves was one of the few left that we hadn’t seen. We’ve both enjoyed Ghibli’s non-fantastical output before (Whisper of the Heart is impossibly lovely and Only Yesterday was very affecting and thought-provoking) so had high hopes, especially as it was billed as coming of age love story.

Ocean Waves tells the story of two friends and the distance that is put between them by a new girl transferring to their school. Our main protagonist is Taku, who thinks he sees a familiar face on a train platform as he gets ready to return home from university. He looks at a picture of the girl he saw as he packs his things and we see the story unfold in flashback. Taku’s best friend is Yutaka. Yutaka becomes enamoured of a new girl at school, Rikako, which Taku teases him about. They travel to Hawaii (!) on a school trip, where Rikako asks to borrow money from both Taku and Yutaka, seemingly playing them against each other. Taku learns that Rikako has had to move from Tokyo due to family trouble and that she has decided to live alone, rather than with her mother. Taku later gets roped into accompanying Rikako on a secret trip back to Tokyo to see her wayward father, where they become closer. However, Rikako ignores Taku once home, though she lets slip to Yutaka they stayed in the same hotel room, which upsets him, especially as she turns down his advances. Yutaka and Taku fall out, which Taku loudly and openly blames Rikako for. As Taku begins to realise he may have feelings for Rikako, the school year is coming to a close and all may be lost…

I so badly wanted to like Ocean Waves. I really did. I enjoyed the contemporary Japanese setting and usually love stories about teen angst and romance but this…was kind of a mystery to me. The film is relatively short (clocking in at around 80 minutes) yet somehow managed to feel like an eternity. I liked Taku and Yutaka (though he appeared more rarely than the blurb seemed to suggest) but found nothing at all redeemable in Rikako. I think we were supposed to feel sorry for her due to her family coming apart, but hardly any back story was given and she behaved so abominably to everyone throughout, it was hard to muster up any feeling other than dislike. She takes money from both Yutaka and Taku, tries to convince her friend to secretly run off to Tokyo with her for the weekend (which involved TAKING A PLANE JOURNEY), complains constantly to Taku when he tries to help her, ditches him for her ex-boyfriend, SLAPS him (though in fairness, he then slaps her back, which is just as horrible), slaps him AGAIN when he tries to compliment her on being tough and then refuses to speak to him.

Somehow, from all this, we were supposed to divine that they were in love the whole time. We went over the plot several times after watching and we couldn’t see how they thought we’d get that, unless the translation was really, truly, terrible. Perhaps we did miss something – perhaps there were clues we failed to pick up on. On the positive side, the animation was as beautiful as ever and the music was evocative. This one just didn’t work for me.

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