How ‘Ocean Waves’ talks about the Mundanity of Adulthood
Ocean Waves Analysis: Three months ago, I turned 20 years old. I have now spent a quarter of my life on this planet. But I don’t know where I am heading. I have no clue what the future has in store for me. Thanks to the pandemic, there’s uncertainty regarding everything now. The only silver lining of this pandemic, at least for me, was getting enough time to hone my skills, do internships, and most importantly, to catch up with some of the films that I haven’t seen, or revisiting some of the already seen classics.
Recently, for no absolute reason, I had this intense desire to watch a Studio Ghibli film again. I had a hard time choosing one from Ghibli’s stellar filmography. Most of the Ghibli films that I had seen had given me different reasons to fall in love with cinema. What I ended up choosing was a very overlooked Ghibli film, one that goes by the name of Ocean Waves. I had seen it almost three years ago, and I wasn’t sure how to react to it then. I didn’t loathe it, but I could not see any potential. I dismissed it as a simple film, one that feels out of place in Ghibli’s oeuvre.
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After watching Ocean Waves again after three years recently, I have a totally different take. The film really hits home with me now. Maybe that’s because I am not the same person that I was when I watched Ocean Waves for the first time. Maybe my own maturity has given me an altogether different lens to view this film.
The film starts with a scene set in a train station. The narrator, a young man named Taku, casts a glance at a girl on the other side of the platform. He can’t help but wonder whether he knows her. The narrator then takes us back in time and recalls an event from the past when Rikako Muto, a girl from Tokyo, transferred to his school, located in the city of Kochi. Taku gets introduced to her through his friend Yutaka Matsuno. Her arrival manages to attract everyone’s attention in school. She beats the tennis captain at the game and finishes 12th in class. But there’s something that bothers her, and Taku is the first one to notice that. Despite her academic excellence and tennis skills, she gets hated by everyone at school because of her arrogance.
Helmed by the young animators of the studio, the film was meant to be made quickly on a low-budget. It was the first film of the studio that was not directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. However, it went over budget, ultimately ending up airing on television, making little or no impact. The film was hardly noticed by anyone at that time. Almost 23 years later, the film got a second chance when it was released out of Japan for the first time, in the U.S.
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Studio Ghibli has its fair share of misses, and Ocean Waves is one of them. On doing some research, I wasn’t really surprised to find out that the film didn’t please most of the critics, many of whom called the characters lifeless and animation not at par with some of the other grandiose Ghibli films. The film surely lacks the depth of some of the other Ghibli films. It doesn’t have the fantastical charm of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it is very much a fascinating film in its own right. Despite its shortcomings, what makes Ocean Waves stand out in Ghibli’s impeccable canon is its attempt to explore the complexities that come with adolescence. As far as I know, there is no Ghibli film that has ever done this.
The film pretty much uses nostalgia as a device to tell its story. In Greek, nostalgia means “pain from an old wound” but for the characters of this film, nostalgia doesn’t evoke pain. On seeing Rikako after such a long time, our narrator himself goes on a nostalgia trip. It’s a trip that evokes melancholic yet fond memories. In a school reunion, Rikako’s batchmate and former student council president Shimizu tells Taku and Yutaka that she had always hated Rikako, but on randomly encountering her in a departmental store one day, she did not get overwhelmed with negative feelings. Instead, she felt nostalgic. In the same reunion, characters confess about their crushes on their former batchmates. The characters of this film cherish their memories. They laugh at the silly ones and they don’t mind keeping the bad ones either, as long as they remind them of a time when they didn’t have to deal with the challenges of adult life.
Shigeru Nagata’s score for this film deserves a special mention. Just like the score of any other Ghibli film, it is simply wonderful. It clearly manages to become an integral part of the film’s fabric. In fact, it seems impossible to imagine this film without this score. It is calming, flirtatious, and melancholic at the same time. It captures the innocence and troubled minds of the three characters, who attempt to navigate through adolescence. The film’s title is also perhaps meant to be viewed as a metaphor for the erratic and constantly changing emotions of the characters. The ocean waves never remain constant, and neither do our emotions.
WATCH OCEAN WAVES ON NETFLIX