Film Review: Ocean Waves, A Rediscovered Studio Ghibli Gem

Photograph courtesy of Gkids Photograph courtesy of Gkids Following last year’s first official U.S. release of 1991’s Only Yesterday, the famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli is rounding out its unreleased (stateside, at least) titles with the 1993 GKids feature Ocean Waves in a 4K digital restoration. Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki and aired originally on Japanese television, the film is very much grounded in the real world and not in the fantasy/supernatural universe so often occupied by Ghibli founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, whose protégés created the film. Told mostly in flashback, Ocean Waves is the story of a college student named Taku, who reflects on his first high school crush, Rikako, who was also the object of affection of his best friend at the time. The stakes of the film are fairly low, but it does an admirable job of capturing the frame of mind of teenagers and early 20-somethings, to whom such events mean the world while they are caught up in the moment. The movie also examines cliques, the fickle nature of friendship, the distancing of children from their parents at a certain age, and how time tends to make forgiveness an easier task. In one sequence of the film, Takue escorts Rikako to Tokyo to visit her estranged father because he’s worried about her. That's when the film goes from an innocent piece about flirtation and young crushes to something more adult and heartbreaking. This is easily the best section of the piece. But it also makes us see Rikako as the true manipulative rich girl that she is, which makes her a lot less sympathetic as the film goes on, and that is actually one of its problems. Based on the novel by Saeko Himuro (and adapted by Kaori Nakamura), Ocean Waves is a slight film that is as intricately rendered as you’d expect any solid Ghibli offering to be, but it’s probably only worth seeking out if you’re a Ghibli completist (and there are many of you out there), Since the film is only about 75 minutes long with credits, it’s being coupled with Ghiblies: Episode 2, a humorous 2002 short film from director Yoshiyuki Momose that was inspired by the inner workings of the studio’s staff, but it also is a fantastic and energetic showcase for the animator talent working at Studio Ghibli at the time. The double-bill opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.