PG – 72mins – 1993
LESSONS IN LOVE
One of the more obscure and less renowned films in the peerless Studio Ghibli collection, up-and-coming director Tomomi Mochizuki’s anime adap. of a popular Japanese novel is also known as I Can Hear the Sea (or Umi Ga Kikoeru, if you’re feeling brave with your pronunciation), but was released as Ocean Waves on its belated region 2 DVD debut release in 2009. Originally made for television by a young crew, it ended up going over budget and schedule.
This extras-lite disc (a trailer is the sole bonus content) is also lacking an English dub, so Japanese with subtitles is the sole audio option. Some may argue that this is how it should always be, but I welcome the option. News that the studio giants are sadly winding down production on new films post-When Marnie was There (released this week on these shores) means revisiting and re-releasing these unsung rarities is surely inevitable going forward.
Despite retaining Ghibli’s distinctive calm and graceful tonal atmosphere, Ocean Waves is unfortunately a slave to its age, with a number of cringingly outmoded sexist comments lending an awkward and naïve air to this story of blossoming young love. Pretty transfer student Rikako (Yoko Sakamoto) moves from Tokyo to the sleepy coastal town of Shikoku and makes waves between competitive best friends Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) and Taku (Nobuo Tobita) in their last year of high school.
“You’re only acting up because your teacher’s a woman!”
With these two “innocent country lads” lost in wide-eyed, gaping admiration over Rikako’s beauty, they are seemingly blind to her deceptive ways, which often verges on flat-out manipulation and makes “a girl like that” hard to endear to. Nevertheless, this doesn’t excuse the hefty slap an exasperated Taku (the relatable lead character, I should clarify) executes to knock Rikako to the floor. It’s hard to watch and makes Ocean Waves uneasy viewing.
With nearly an hour of the film consumed by Taku’s memories of this fawning and formative time, Mochizuki executes a technique of opening each new reverie with thick white borders of varying sizes accompanied by scene-setting illustrations which are instantly repeated when the story begins. It’s an interesting visual choice (perhaps enforced by budget?), but certainly makes the film stand out – and leaves a better taste in the mouth than the archaic gender politics which are more narrow-minded than charmingly innocent.
With the stunted 72 minute feature fading on the promise of a happy ending, I can’t help thinking Taku and Rikako’s blossoming relationship is in for a rude awakening. After all, “women are only into how guys look, anyway” (!!). For a young director (Mochizuki was just 34 at the time) stretching his creative wings, Ocean Waves is not without promise or value, but its darker, pubescent attitude jars and mars any of the timeless adolescent splendour we usually associate with the Asian anime giants.