Being the first Studio Ghibli creation directed by Tomomo Mochizuki, Ocean Waves (also known as I Can Hear the Sea) comes as a very well-structured, exceptionally beautiful, intensely emotional picture, which shows that this acclaimed Japanese animation studio is able to produce not only marvelous, fantasy-filled movies, but also ones that carry a deeply realistic overtone, and are set cleverly in real-life locations.
When you think about it, the story shown in Ocean Waves is so authentic that it could have been made into a feature film as well. It depicts a tale of a complex and unfulfilled high school romance, and does it in the most subtle and profound manner that you will ever encounter in any animated picture. The characters are genuine, their problems are distinct and comprehensible, and the ambiance of the picture is quaint, so to say, making it a must-see for every true anime fan. When peaceful and well-mannered teenager Taku (voiced by Nobuo Tobita) is introduced to a pretty transfer student Rikako (Yoko Sakamoto), his cozy and undisturbed world is suddenly turned upside down. This rather socially awkward, saucy and iron-willed girl brings a bunch of troubles to Taku’s life. He becomes angry and frustrated with Rikako’s selfishness and aversion towards other people, and her continuous requests and tedious whims. But through those uneasy experiences Taku is able to realize that he has actually been attracted to her all along, since the first day he saw her in school. Unfortunately, so is his best friend Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki). This causes a bit of a quarrel between the boys and the girl they’re both in love with. Yet, there are no winners or losers in this bizarre love triangle. While Taku seems to be getting closer to Rikako, because of an unexpected journey to Tokyo, he still isn’t able to work out what’s really happening in the girl’s confused mind.
The movie is told in retrospective, with an insightful narration, provided by Taku, the protagonist of the whole story, making it look even more like a regular feature of flesh and blood. The pitch-perfect art direction brings out all the magically colorful landscapes, whether it’s in cities like Kochi and Tokyo, or on sunny Hawaiian beaches, and gives them an incomparable charm.
While some people might say that nothing really happens, or that the movie lacks a steady storyline, Ocean Waves proves to be a wonderful character-driven experience, rather than a plot-driven one. Even though the movie runs for only 72 minutes, the characters are all well developed, which makes it easy for the viewer to get to know them and recognize their true feelings. I bet that many people can totally relate to the sensations that the three teenagers go through during the course of action. Viewers should note that this is a movie written especially for teenagers and adults, not for kids, mainly because of its weighty themes. All in all, if you want to get a glimpse of the magnificence of the other, more realistic than fantastical, Studio Ghibli you should watch Ocean Waves right away. It’s one of their lesser-known films, but it’s still a very strong position in the collection.