The Lost Potential of Ocean Waves (1993)

Ocean Waves (1993), known in Japan as “I Can Hear the Sea,” is a Japanese anime television film directed by Tomomi Mochizuki and written by Kaori Nakamura based on the 1990-1992 novel of the same name by Saeko Himuro. It was animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten and the Nippon Television Network. Ocean Waves first aired on May 5, 1993 on Nippon TV. (Wikipedia)

Since this movie has been around for a while, it’s not a surprise that a lot of people have already heard of it. Or, maybe, not heard of it. I wasn’t aware of this movie’s existence (not because it came out seven years before I even existed) until Netflix made it available on their platform.

Even then, I only watched it about a week ago.

As mentioned, this movie has been around for a while. So, it’s only natural that people have already expressed what they feel about it. And, well, they’re not usually good.

A lot of people have called this movie boring, or slow. They didn’t understand the story and, in fact, doubted that there was a story.

More importantly, there was a trending video a while ago where they insinuated that the movie was Studio Ghibli’s unintended queer film, since they sensed more chemistry between Taku and Yukata than Taku and Rikako, the supposed heroin of the story.

I was intimidated by the claims that this movie is boring and pointless, but the unintended side of the storytelling intrigued me. Naturally, I watched it.

Yeah, it was as boring as they say it is.

I had to watch it with a couple of other people, otherwise I would’ve been bored out of my mind. Even though this movie is an hour long, it feels longer. I didn’t feel like I wanted to stop at any time, but I did feel like it wasn’t really going anywhere, or that it was taking too long to get to where it wanted to go.

I’m sure, since this is based on a book, that there’s more to the story than what is animated. However, solely judging the story via the film, it’s a disaster.

The setting itself is fine. There’s a lot of intrigue to start a story in the future and then introduce the audience to the past. I believe it’s a style that hooks the audience in almost immediately, since it really just begins with a question. “How did you get here?”

The beginning of Ocean Waves is a wordless montage of Taku getting ready to go to the airport to fly to his old hometown. There are two moments that I liked. One, the camera lingering on the reunion invitation, which sets up the motivations of the main character immediately. Two, the main character lingering on a photo of a girl, who we later learn is Rikako. Right then, we can deduce that Taku must have had a thing for Rikako to have kept a photo of her. She must go to the school and perhaps, he even hopes to see her again in the reunion.

As he flies back, he narrates the story and we flashback to Taku’s time in highschool. Naturally, we assume there’s going to be an explanation of who Rikako is and what she means to Taku. There’s a hint of that, but it’s completely abandoned by the middle of the story.

Instead, what they did, was accidentally reveal how much Taku likes Yukata, and how much Yukata’s presence makes Taku smile, and how much Taku doesn’t like it when Yukata talks about Rikako. Even at the very beginning, Taku is seen abandoning work just because Yukata asked him to hurry back to school. There are mentions of Taku viewing Yukata differently, and Taku thinks Rikako would never see the true value that is Yukata.

Even though the movie focuses a lot on Taku and Rikako, there’s not a lot of chemistry there, and Rikako acts very unfavorably throughout the story. The first time they meet, she starts by acting all cute and adorable and asks Taku for a hefty sum of money. For someone who just transferred to a new school and hadn’t even known Taku for long, that’s a bold thing to do. On top of that, from their brief conversation, it doesn’t sound like she is overly polite about it either. She makes Taku believe that she had been robbed and that she is able to pay him back “soon.” When Taku questions her too much, she gets defensive and insults his accent. Taku takes offense, then she plays it off, and he accepts it? Strange.

When Rikako leaves and Yukata walks over, Taku happily tells him what had happened even though Rikako had asked Taku to keep quiet about it (again, suspect). Later, Rikako is upset with Taku because he told Yukata, as Yukata offered her some money, which she accepted. Ass.

Then, after that, there’s a time skip. We are told that Rikako had made a friend in Yumi and now people have backed off on making an enemy out of the Tokyo city girl. Disaster strikes when Yumi calls Taku one early morning and explains that, instead of going to Osaka for a concert, Rikako actually bought two tickets to go to Tokyo so that she may see her father again.

First of all, how rude do you have to be to basically kidnap someone when you know they have a strict family? Even though it doesn’t feel like a big deal, lying to strict parents is the worst thing you can do. Second of all, why don’t you just ask someone to lend you money without making up all these excuses? If they’re genuinely a good person, and you can actually pay them back, then just do it. There’s no reason to lie. I don’t think wanting to see your father again (when you had little choice in the matter) is something others would make fun of you for.

The worst thing is, she hadn’t told her father she was going to visit him. And she just expected he’d be okay with paying back the people she owed.

At that point, it’s very obvious she isn’t really gaining any sympathy points from me.

However, the movie tries to make you feel bad for her by showing how quickly her father had moved on from her mother, and that his new mistress has completely redecorated the apartment they used to reside in as a family. In her words, her childhood bedroom is no longer the one she grew up in. While I understand that it’s a hard thing to reconcile, I don’t think this justifies her behavior because she has been acting like this before this information.

Next thing we know, Taku is in a hotel room and Rikako barges in. She says that she is allowed to stay in the room because her father is paying for it, but I am under the impression that it’s Taku’s money because her father had paid him back for the money Taku lent her. So, it’s his. He’s paying it with his own money. Either way, you don’t automatically have the right to something just because your parent(s) own it or are paying for it. The entitlement of this woman offends every single fiber of my body.

Somehow, like the doormat he is, Taku is fine with it. He lets her sleep in his bed and settles for the bathtub instead. What a gentleman, right? Rikako wakes him up rudely in the morning because she needed the toilet and chastises him for taking so long. What?

She continually displays arrogant, spoiled, and self-absorbed behavior throughout the day. There was a point where Taku couldn’t stand it and has an outburst at the café, but nothing seems to come out of it. Again, after that, there’s a skip. We are, again, told what happened. They don’t talk anymore, Rikako became a recluse again, and now there’s a rumor that she and Taku spent a night in the same hotel room together in Tokyo over the holiday.

Taku doesn’t care until Yakuta cares. He mentions how Rikako rejected his confession and Taku, offended, goes to confront Rikako. A verbal altercation, slap, slap, further insults, and scene. What just happened? What purpose does this serve toward Taku and Rikako?

Taku walks in on Rikako getting ganged up on by the other girls in the class as she had refused to show up to rehearsals for their graduation. Something about class morale and unity. He doesn’t step in, she gives the other girls a good talking to, and then Rikako slaps Taku and calls him an idiot. Yakuta shows up, Taku mentions what happened and why he didn’t step in, and then Yakuta punches him and calls him an idiot.

What?

To be fair, Yakuta mentions earlier in the film that Rikako was being marginalized for being unique. She beat the tennis club leader, she gets better grades than the rest of the student, and she’s the only one speaking in a different accent/dialect than the rest of the class. Standing out like that is definitely social suicide, but if you think about it, are those really the only reasons why she’s being bullied? Her attitude and behavior is so nasty throughout the film that I don’t think any sane kid in that universe would like to be friends with her. Staying away from her is a better choice because she’d either make fun of you for being you or she’d ask you for money without making sure she’d even be able to pay you back.

Towards the end of the movie, we are brought back to the present. Taku and Yakuta meet up, they chat, and then they walk down the pier. The music swells, and, as Yakuta starts to speak, you feel as though this is the perfect setup for a confession.

You think back to moments in the film, the way Taku lights up whenever Yakuta is there, the way Taku always talks about how he views Yakuta differently, and how his mood changes depending on what Yakuta is doing/saying.

Yakuta says something about how he should have realized all those years ago…

That Taku really liked Rikako.

Huh? Are you kidding me?

The movie shoehorns this romance into the storyline because they either didn’t care enough to iron out the details or they read the first ten pages and called it a day. There’s no way a self-respecting story would put so write the supposed main love line so much weaker than the relationship between the two best friends. There wasn’t a single moment on screen where Taku enjoyed his time with Rikako but we are being forced to just accept it. They even added a little flashback segment of Rikako’s conversations with Taku and they’re all just negative things, because there wasn’t a single moment where RIkako was genuinely nice to him.

The utter disaster of a story ends with Taku realizing that Rikako returns his “affections” and had been looking for him in Tokyo. We are now back in Tokyo and there’s a short Kimi no Na Wa moment (but they did it better) where Taku runs across the platform to meet her.

Throughout the entire movie, the general reaction was rooting for Rikako to get slapped and verbal confusion whenever something happens. We are told so many things that I might as well just read the book. They try to show us things but nothing that they showed is relevant, or they showed us the wrong thing. There’s no chemistry between Rikako and Taku — in fact, the only chemistry I felt was hatred. I felt like Taku would dislike Rikako a lot for what she did to him. But I was wrong. I guess that’s the unfortunate side effect of being a straight man.

Still, get some standards, Taku. Even I’m not as desperate as you.

That being said, the movie is pretty to look at. There are moments like the above pictured that capture my attention, visually. There’s so much potential with visual storytelling in this movie that they just abandoned, along with the actual storytelling.

The pacing sucks, there’s no real goal, and character growth is out of the window. Maybe if they somehow redeemed Rikako after the trip, it would’ve been an okay storyline, but no, nothing happened. They could have made Yakuta and Taku a thing if they weren’t cowards. That would’ve been an interesting storyline. A love triangle where the girl doesn’t seem to be interested in either of the boys and one of the boys isn’t interested either.

This movie is such a waste of potential and a whole bunch of nothing happened. It’s such a shame that the only redeeming quality of this movie is the animation and art.

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