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Ocean Waves, The
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by Jay Seaver

"There's always that one girl in high school."
4 stars

"The Ocean Waves" is seen relatively rarely in the United States; having been made for Japanese television, featuring no fantasy elements, and not being directed by either of Studio Ghibli's most renowned filmmakers (Hayao Miyazaki & Isao Takahata), it never received a DVD release here. Too bad; it's a nice little movie, worth a look if the touring Ghibli retrospective lands in your town.

Taku (voice of Nobuo Tobita) and Yutaka (voice of Toshihiko Seki) were never in the same homeroom at school, but became close friends when they were the only ones to protest the cancellation of their class trip. One day, Yutaka calls Taku during vacation to give him exciting news about a transfer student: Rikako (voice of Yoko Sakamoto) comes to their small town from Tokyo and is pretty, athletic, and smart; Yutaka clearly has a crush already. But when Rikako gets in a bind during their senior class trip, it's Taku she turns to, leading to a number of messy situations.

Though Taku serves as the movie's narrator and certainly comes into his own over the course of the film, the focal point is clearly Rikako, his first experience with how simultaneously wonderful and frustrating women and other people can be. For a character in a seventy-two minute animated movie, she's a surprisingly rich creation - often aloof, scheming, and self-centered, although the roots of her less appealing qualities serve to make her a sympathetic figure. She's clearly got some issues, and they are lodged deep enough that it's going to take more than a weekend with Taku to resolve them.

Though Rikako is the most memorable character for how mysterious she can be to Taku, it's a good coming-of-age story in many ways. Some pieces may seem odd to Americans - the class trip, the relative independence teenagers are sometimes afforded, the discussions of regional accents - but director Tomomi Mochizuki and screenwriter Kaori Nakamura (adapting a novel by Saeko HImuro) do an interesting job of showing Taku attaining adulthood - as inconsequential as many scenes seem, almost all have to do with him learning trust: Do you question this authority, or keep that confidence? They're working with subtle shades of maturity.

Animation actually communicates this sort of thing surprisingly well; the characters' faces are generally simple designs but nonetheless quite expressive. Mochizuki can hold an expression or even an entire scene still long enough to let it sink in, although it might seem like a sort of artificial stillness in live-action. And while The Ocean Waves doesn't traffic in nostalgia quite as much as coming-of-age movies often do - Taku is only looking back a year or two for most of the movie - it appropriates those techniques smartly at times, like using a wide white border around certain moments to suggest them being placed in a scrapbook.

"The Ocean Waves" is minor Ghibli in a number of ways, but it's still a good story well told. That it's also a fine example of the house style and something to discover for fans who have seen almost everything else is a bonus.

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originally posted: 09/11/12 11:50:00
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  N/A (PG)
  DVD: 29-Dec-2011

  25-Jan-2010 (PG)

  09-Jun-2010 (PG)

Directed by
  Tomomi Mochizuki

Written by
  Kaori Nakamura

  Nobuo Tobita
  Toshihiko Seki
  Yoko Sakamoto
  Yuri Amano
  Kae Araki

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