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Nether Regions 06.08.10: Ocean Waves
Posted by Chad Webb on 06.08.2010



















Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.




MISSING:


OCEAN WAVES







Featuring the Voices of: Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, and Yoko Sakamoto
Directed By: Tomomi Mochizuki
Written By: Saeko Himuro (novel)
Running Time: 72 minutes
Release Date: May 5, 1993 (Japan)
Missing Since: 1993
Existing Formats: Nothing in Region 1 - Only Region 2 DVD
Netflix Status: Not Available
Availability: Extremely Rare - Hard to Buy and Watch


Ocean Waves, or Umi ga Kikoeru, also known as "I Can Hear the Sea", was the first Studio Ghibli film to be made by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. It was engineered solely by the younger generation of staffers at the studio, people in their 20's and 30's. Director Tomomi Mochizuki was 34 at the time. The goal was to make it "quickly, cheaply, and with quality", but like most Ghibli pictures, it went over budget and over schedule. It was also made-for-TV, but that makes no difference as to its merit. This is a humorous, affecting, and sincere effort that helped spread the word on how much promising talent Ghibli has to offer the world of animation.

There is no screenwriter credited, but it is known to be an adaptation of the novel by Saeko Himuro. The story picks up with narration by Taku Morisaki (voice of Nobuo Tobita), after he has graduated high school. He is returning to his hometown of Kochi in Shikoku, Japan for a class reunion. He recalls his friendship with fellow classmate Yutaka Matsuo (voice of Toshihiko Seki) and the arrival of transfer student Rikako Muto (voice of Yoko Sakamoto). Yutaka falls for Rikako right away, but like most students in her predicament, she has trouble adjusting. She is a superb athlete and ranks 12th in her grade, but the girls do not like her. She has a grand total of 1 friend, named Yumi. The fact that she was forced to move due to the divorce of her parents has not been easy either.

Taku follows Rikako
on a ledge near
the sea.
Taku met Yutaka when their class trip was cancelled and then combined with another grade. Taku was very unhappy about it, and during an assembly when a teacher asked if anyone needed a detailed explanation as to why, only Taku and Yutaka raised their hands. Through this ordeal, they formed a bond. Later, it was announced that the school would be taking the trip to Hawaii, which was considerably better than the first location, but Taku stood unyielding with his anger, claiming they were just trying to buy the students off. It was Yutaka who first pointed out the attractive Rikako to Taku. Although only Yutaka had a crush on her, most of the boys admired her. One hilarious scene shows the guys on the bleachers making comments about a girl's breast size and then staring open-mouthed at Rikako, a Tokyo girl, who excels at basically everything.

Once the trip to Hawaii finally arrives, the students enjoy themselves on the beach and in the sun. On the last day, Rikako tracks down Taku, and asks him if she can borrow some money. She says she lost hers, and since she found out that Taku had a job at a restaurant, he was the logical person to ask. He agrees, but is unaware of what she really plans to use the money for. Failing to acclimatize to the country atmosphere, she uses the money for a plane ticket to Tokyo. She tries to take her lone companion Yumi, but that backfires when she gets scared and phones Taku for help. This leads Taku to inadvertently accompanying Rikako to Tokyo to visit her father. Once they return, a lot has changed. Rumors swirl around the school about the two of them spending time together in Tokyo, and furthermore, Taku's friendship with Yutaka is then tested because of the events.

Like Only Yesterday, this is a coming-of-age tale, but in this case it follows three characters instead of one. Taeko in Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday was a female whose life was changing at the age of 12, and then in her late twenties. Rikako, Taku, and Yutaka are about to make the transition from high school to college, leaving youth behind in favor of adult responsibilities. The minds of these three function a bit differently than the innocent Taeko. They have more weighing on their minds, and are considerably moodier. College Placement exams are right around the corner and decisions on what university or higher learning establishment to attend must be dealt with. At the same time, Taku has a job in a restaurant, and combined with his studies, not to mention the situation with his friends, there is a significant amount of stress.

The romantic dilemma in Ocean Waves is handled with incredible candor and conviction. I was involved in a love triangle when I was younger, very similar to the one presented here. One of my good friends really liked a certain girl, but she initially drifted towards me, mainly because I could drive and he couldn't. It is a situation that will end badly no matter what. Guys are stubborn, and both of us persisted in pursuing her until too much damage had been done our chances with her and our friendship. The girl was just appreciating all the attention. What occurs in Ocean Waves is not far off. Yutaka likes Rikako, but Taku winds up getting closer with her more often, even if he didn't intend for that to happen. This lovely film brought all those personal memories flooding back. This animated movie has more truth in regards to a love triangle than most live-action pictures do.

It is tremendously easy to relate to, not just for how the triangle is conducted, but because of the attitudes of Taku, Rikako, and Yutaka. The collective actions of the trio are occasionally misinterpreted, and their behavior proves to be thoroughly confusing at times. Taku seems to be oblivious in many instances, Yutaka suffers silently, and Rikako doesn't appear to care in the slightest about what conflicts she is creating. The jealousy begins when Yutaka spots Taku and Rikako parting ways after she had asked him for the money on the school trip. Nothing had happened, but the seeds were planted because Yutaka's buddy was talking privately with a girl he is fond of. Yutaka is voiced with subtlety and shyness by Toshihiko Seki.

Nobuo Tobita is magnificent at voicing Taku, a young man who is trying to sort out the perplexing signals that fly his way. He is annoyed by Rikako, but is too nice to refuse the help she desires, and subsequently is unaware of what doing that means to Yutaka, who hears about it second-hand. Yoko Sakamoto is sensational as the voice of Rikako, a snappy, temperamental, and selfish teenage girl. But what transforms Ocean Waves into such a wonderful experience is in comprehending why Rikako acts like she does. Enduring a divorce at such a crucial age is bad enough, but switching schools, moving from an urban neighborhood to a suburban/rural one, and having to meet new friends would make anyone grouchy. There is a rare frankness in how a girl of this age is conveyed.

Taku confronts Rikako
after a call from Yumi.
Through Taku's narration, we learn how he is ignored after such important exchanges and time spent with Rikako. Her capricious nature and abrupt mood swings are hard to gauge. During the Tokyo trip to visit Rikako's father, she leaves his house in tears after an argument about the alterations to her bedroom, and storms in on Taku at his hotel room. She falls asleep in his bed, and he must then sleep in the bathtub. The next morning, the only thing she is concerned about is keeping a date with an ex-boyfriend.

Japanese dialects and locations are noteworthy in Ocean Waves, and since I have never been to Japan, this was refreshing and informative. Rikako teases Taku because his Kochi accent makes him sound like a samurai. He makes a comment about her Tokyo tongue in retaliation. Routes via plane and train are discussed in association with Kochi (where most of the story takes place) and Tokyo (the major city). The geographical intelligence and alertness was thoughtful and engaging because it affords the viewer a sense of what the traveling represents to the characters, or anyone in Japan for that matter.

One of the objectives Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had in founding Studio Ghibli was to consistently nourish new crops of animators, paving the road for the future. This was the first example of that aspiration. Both legends taught classes themselves, and they hired employees on a permanent basis, not just per project, which was the norm. The newer animators were then sent to work in television, which was a positive conversion since that realm demanded less of a burden. Ocean Waves is a marvelously overlooked effort because it never registers as a rookie sort of film. The story and character development are profound and confidently paced, while the story steers clear of clichés.

Tomomi Mochizuki was the first outside director that Studio Ghibli hired. He was best known at the time for his proficiency on numerous television series'. While assuming the director's position for this film, he was already committed to the Here is Greenwood series. Thankfully he is a brilliant multi-tasker. His structure and speed is reminiscent to Takahata more than Miyazaki as it supports a naturalistic approach. Most of the shots are static, except for the conclusion, but it's all delightfully competent and skillfully ordered. Intermittent images appear almost as postcards, or perhaps photographs from specific points as Taku remembers them. Nagata Shigeru emulates Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi with his poignant score that compliments the tenderness and sensibility of Ocean Waves.

The reason this has never, and probably will never, receive a region 1 DVD release is because Rikako mentions being cranky due to her period. This was also the problem with Only Yesterday, and once again, it is foolish to keep such a gem away from more viewers because some people are apparently too fragile. It is a key part of growing up for girls. This also has Rikako chugging rum & cokes, and there is also a few sequences with mild violence. This is just more motive for me to invest in a universal DVD player soon. Ocean Waves is worth your time. It is a film with undeniable purity, heart, and authenticity about restless kids in love and the pressure of impending adulthood.

Final Rating = 9.0/10.0



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