Taku is your average Japanese high school student that lives in the town of Kochi, on the island of Shikoki: he works hard at school, has a part-time job at a restaurant, and has good friends. His normal high school life takes a sudden change when he and his best friend Yutaka meet Rikako, a Tokyo transfer student who moved to Kochi with her mother. Along with being an intelligent student and gifted with sports, we later find that she has a lot of family problems, which caused an unexpected trip to Tokyo for Taku and Rikako. It also seems there is problematic love triangle, which Taku, Rikako and Yutaka learn the importance of both friendship and love.
The creation of the film was due to a problem that Studio Ghibli faced the demand for young and talented directors. By Porco Rosso’s release in 1992, every film made by Studio Ghibli was directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, and when they became too old to work as directors, Studio Ghibli wouldn’t last long if they didn’t have good long lasting successors, (at the time, they were aged 51 and 57 respectively). Since Studio Ghibli has been training young staff for several years, Toshio Suzuki decided it was time for the young staff to work on a TV anime film. During the time of production, the film had the project name ‘Umi’, (Sea in Japansese), and Takahata was producer. The Director was 34 year old Tomomi Mochizuki, and every other staff members were in their 20s and 30s. Since it an anime film made for TV, it was planned to be made cheaply and in a short amount of time, but it went overdue and over budget. The film, originally titled “I Can Hear the Sea” was finally released on Christmas Day in 1993.
The animation is great, but not really up to Ghibli standards, some familiar areas like the character designs and the amount of detail to the smallest features, and every character feel like real people, but you wouldn’t really tell Studio Ghibli made this film if you went straight into this without knowing anything about it. It’s not really a bad thing, it was made solely by the youngest staff members of Studio Ghibli and they used the opportunity to have their own style of a Ghibli film. One actual bad thing I could say is that there aren’t any artistic effects beyond the occasional shadows but considering the expected limitations, it does meet the expectations of a Ghibli film nonetheless.
The art style however is much better, there is focus to detail since the backgrounds are based on real settings and the artwork is greatly coloured. There are some shots which are very striking and memorable, and it definitely showed what the younger generation of Studio Ghibli could do.
My only real problem is that the characters stand out too much. The normal animation procedure for anime is to draw the characters and the background separately, Studio Ghibli traditionally use traditional paints for the character art and watercolours for the background, and while in most of their films it is rarely noticeable because the use of colours are good, in this one I think the backgrounds are too bright sometimes, so there are more scenes where the characters are thick and stand out, so it’s a small distraction to pay for good art.
The music is hit and miss, there are some good tracks which sound good on their own and brilliant when the mood of the scenes are right. There isn’t much orchestral but there is some nice piano pieces with a few traditional Japanese instruments here and there and at one point a surprisingly fitting jazz trumpet during one of the scores. However there is the miss, some of the songs are just weird when compared with the other tracks, and some of the pieces just don’t really fit the mood, mostly the scenes that are trying to be funny when they don’t look like it.
Once again, it is another Studio Ghibli film without a dub, at least in English. Because the Tokuma-Disney deal in 1997 gave Disney western distribution rights to theatrical releases, then the TV anime film wasn’t included. A Spanish dub was done by Aurum but I’ve never found any clips of it, and since I don’t watch Spanish films, I wouldn’t give a valid opinion. The Japanese dub is quite good, the voice actors are very suited, and the contrast in voices between the Kochi and Tokyo voice actors is subtle but noticeable.
Let me get this out front before I continue, I’m not into romance stories of any kind. To me, they are predictable, slow, and I lose interest in the two main characters quickly if the entire film is based on a couple’s relationship. This is a romance story focused on the relationship between Taku and Rikako, and my main problem with this story is that I don’t buy the romance. On Taku’s side, Rikako is sometimes defiant, careless for others and unnecessarily harsh from time to time. On her side, Taku can talk like he has his foot in his mouth and even though he is sympathetic and kind to others he is less like that to Rikako. I’d buy more to the relationship between Rikako and Yutaka since he is helpful, friendly and knows what he says and Rikako seems to appreciate what he does, but that doesn’t really go anywhere beyond a few off camera scenes.
I guess if I did have to give credit to the story is that it isn’t a predictable relationship, and thankfully not a clichéd one either, it is a story which has serious drama when needed and it even has comedy which is downplayed enough to actually fit into the film, be subtle and still makes you chuckle. I would still recommend anyone to give it a watch despite my problems with the romance, it would be perfect for those into romance, especially the young adult crowed since it is a film which that kind of crowed can relate to in some way, I’m a young adult and I can relate to it myself.
Ocean Waves is available from Optimum Releasing. The original novel by Saeko Himuro, and was originally serialised in Animage, has not been released in the UK or US, a sequel novel titled “I Can Hear the Sea II: Because There is Love” has also not been released for English speaking audiences.