Ocean Waves

Ocean Waves is a Studio Ghibli film I imagine very few have seen, or one that is rarely spoken of. It sneakily made its way onto Japanese TV back in 1993, and hasn't done that much since. I've passed it on occasions when around the Ghibli section in DVD shops, but the cover has always looked pretty unappealing, and, it is usually ridiculously priced. (Even for such a Ghibli fan as me, you must be joking thinking I'm going to fork out £20 for it.)

I was stoked when it popped up randomly on TV, and cleared the masses of work I had to do that day to spend some precious time with a film I knew was going to be amazing...I mean, how couldn't it be? 

Let's just say the corny cover art for the film (below) was probably the best thing about it...and even that's stretching it slightly.

Some spoilers ahead. 

On his way to meet all his classmates again at their school reunion two years after he has graduated, Taku reminisces about his time as a sixth former living in Koichi, and one girl in particular, Tokyo transfer student Muto.

Chronicling Taku's time spent with Muto, and the strain that his friendship with her has on his bestfriend, Matsuno, Ocean Waves should be a harmless, gooey coming of age romance; one that fills you with a little 'cutsey' feeling inside like Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns or even Only Yesterday, three Ghibli-made films that focus on those same themes. Sadly, it didn't for me. Not even close.

First things, first. When you have a character that another character likes, whether that be a boy/boy, girl/girl, boy/girl, girl/boy - whatever - there should usually be a tad of a reason why the crushee is crushing on the crush. Yes, in real life I guess there are those moments where we like people and we don't necessarily know why. Still, there is usually a little bit of an inkling to what made us like them in the first place. 

Ocean Waves, let me ask you this question - What was the reason Taku and friend Matsuno liked Muto? Because I am totally stumped.

Muto is possibly one of the most annoying, irritating, and self-absorbed characters I have come across in quite some time in a film. Like, you have no idea how much of a fucking pain in the arse she is (and she really is - I'm not exaggerating). I don't know what her purpose was - what her beef with everyone around her was - but God almighty was she grating on my patience. I am surprised that I managed to get out alive from the constant nag that her character was. What a grueling hour and half. An hour and a half of moaning. I'm not even get into how irritatingly stereotypical it was of her to blame her mood on her 'bad periods'. (I get them, too, real bad -we all do - but no one ever, ever blames their mood on that shit.)

Thinking that in good 'ol Chihiro style (the lead character in another Studio Ghibli film, Spirited Away) Muto would reform and fix up her act is definitely one of the reasons I kept watching. While Ghibli have been known to deal with some HARD CORE themes in their time considering the target market that their films are aimed at, their characters have some kind of social conscious, or gain one, if they didn't have it at the beginning of the film (again like Chihiro). A warning to all who may be embarking on watching Ocean Waves - that doesn't happen. Or at least we don't get to see the supposed change that was where it was gearing towards, but never got there. 

In the class reunion, we hear about these massive changes; how Muto regrets the way she acted back in school, but, the point is, how are we supposed to believe it from some ridiculous line about her wanting to see a guy that sleeps in bath tubs who lives in Koichi (that's Taku by the way) that we don't even SEE her saying?

Sad thing is, there are genuinely people like her - people that use and abuse others, and think they can get away with it.

Worst of all is Taku answering to Muto's every request when he doesn't even know her, which is for most of the film, really. The guy gives her $400 (£200) when she starts whining to him about losing all her money on a school trip (she hasn't, she uses the money to go and see her dad - a time when she also has a go at Taku). This is when the two have only met once. And guess what the reason for her asking Taku for money was? Muto knew he had a job (Matsuno had told her), and, of course, people with jobs always have money! Those were her exact words.

When Taku finally sticks up for himself and has a massive outburst at some lunch with Muto and her ex-boyfriend in Tokyo (who she is trying to make jealous by pretending Taku is her boyfriend), he takes it all back in the next five minutes.

Taku is the epitome of one of the saddest characters, I've found, you can be - a doormat.

The second time Taku makes a stand, is probably not the best way to resolve a situation (he slaps Muto after she slapped him), but, to be fair, I can understand that pent up frustration at how Muto had acted towards him. Okay, yeah, it is not right to hit anyone, whether they be male or female, but I can understand that bubbling anger feeling - I've been there, and I think a lot of us have, too. That is probably the most relatable part of the film for me, unfortunately.

The last time Taku takes a step-back and says 'no', guess what happens? Muto slaps him AGAIN, and then, minutes later, Matsuno punches him in the face. So, not only is the poor guy a doormat, he is a punchbag, too. And all of this is over Muto, someone who can clearly defend herself when she is 'cornered' by a group of girls over her refusing to go to the end of year celebrations. It wasn't the girl-group making all the threats - it was Muto. She even went out of her way to make one of the girl's cry, and she is a person who needs to be protected? Sure.

Taku was as kind and caring to Muto as he could be, and she threw all that back in his face (unless it was for her benefit i.e getting money off him to jet off to Tokyo). There was never a reason for him to be the bigger person and try to befriend her, but he did so anyway because he was a good guy.

I don't know what they were taking (or what they weren't taking) when Ocean Waves was being made, but at every given turn, the film was just a mess. Visually it is lovely, as all of Ghibli's films are, but that is always the secondary thing for me when I watch any of their stuff - from Princess Mononoke to Porco Rosso - it's always about the writing.

Believing that Ghibli are one of the best studio filmmakers out there, who have proven time and time again they can write relatable, strong female and male characters, it is disappointing to find the real dud in the mountain of gold that they have produced over the years. 

Tales of the Earthsea (the film I have seen many pointing out to be the weakest of Ghibli's output) may have been long, and sometimes boring, but at least there was that charming spark floating round somewhere - here, the story and characters were so fucking vague, so un-Ghibli like (and not in the good way) that I was left feeling frustrated that I'd seen Ocean Waves in the first place. And for someone who loves watching films, the worst feeling you can have is to want to turn back the clocks and wish you'd done some boring essay-work instead. 


  1. So a Ghibli film to avoid then? haha. Great write up! I just watched Spirited Away for the first time the other week and loved every minute of it! I'll be heading back to the DVD store in the new year to stock up on some other Ghibli titles :) (but not this one!)

  2. I saw you wrote a review of Spirited Away actually, and was gonna read it at some point of the next few days *is ridiculously slow when it comes to reading/posting and commenting!*

    I'd be interested what other people say about this one, actually, as I haven't found too many reviews on it (and the ones I have, people do seem to like it and think that it does have the Ghibli charm and something more), so if you do invest in it, let me know what you thought of it!

    And thank you, Ruth!

  3. I haven't seen it, I will read your review if I do.

    Have you seen 5 centimeters per second (2007)
    I really liked it, and its also fairly obscure.

  4. Yes, I have!

    Is it split up into 3 parts, because I'm sure I've only seen the first part when that came out on some random website with some pretty bad subtitles. Still had me sobbing away, anyway!

    I've been thinking about reviewing it for this blog, actually, as it was years ago (2007 according to when it was released since you mentioned it!) since I've seen that first part, and I'd really like to see the rest of it.

  5. I think you can find the whole movie on youtube, the picture quality may be a bit off, though.
    If you want to see what I thought, here's my review:


  6. I'll definitely check it out over the next few weeks, thanks for reminding me about it.

    I'd love to! I'll read your review after I've watched it, though, as that's how I usually tend to read reviews nowadays - thanks for linking it to me!




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