This film was a departure from the standard Ghibli production at the time. Studio Ghibli was primarily known for producing the animated films directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. This film immediately differs from that with a new, young director Tomomi Mochizuki at the helm. The idea was to have some of the younger staff members of Studio Ghibli (including animation director Katsuya Kondo, who would do the animation direction and key animation for several other Ghibli films) have a project to do without the direct involvement of either Miyazaki or Takahata.
The project was suggested by famed Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, who thought Ghibli's young staff would appreciate an opportunity to make a film based on the novel by Himuro. Conceived of as a special television event, Ocean Waves was one of Ghibli's first drama projects. It also remains as one of the studio's best dramas.
Taku, a young college student in Japan, reflects upon the time he spent in high school and the fond memories he holds dear of his experiences with his friends at school. Taku and his close friend from school, Yutaka both admired and had feelings for a girl from their school, Rikako. Rikako is a lot different from the generally quiet and reserved Taku. She's active in sports and school events. She's outspoken and some view her as being arrogant. Yet both Taku and Yutaka become enamored with her.
Told via flashbacks, the story of Taku meeting Rikako and falling in love with her is explored over the course of the school year. This is a romantic and moving tale of young love. During a school trip to Hawaii, Taku helps Rikako out by lending her some of his own money after she loses some of her own and winds up in a desperate situation. Taku doesn't ask for or expect for Rikako to repay him.
The pair slowly become entwined in each others lives. Even though a love triangle starts to form, it becomes clear that Taku holds a dear affection for Rikako. The film builds to a beautifully serene ending which will stay in the minds of audiences long after the closing credits roll.
The animation style in Ocean Waves to something special to behold. Animation director Katsuya Kondo (Ponyo), who also served as the film's lead character designer, imbues the film with a sensibility that cannot be overlooked. The film has a unique visual style that will enchant audiences. The artwork still holds up well to this day.
The film has a nostalgic style which suits Ghibli's artistic approach. While the influence on the younger staff by mentors Miyazaki and Takahata is unquestionably felt, the young staff bring their own unique sensibilities to the project. The film is notably different from the works of either Takahata or Miyazaki. The film is one of Ghibli's most naturalistic looking efforts. It certainly achieved a specific desired look because of the dedication the production team took when researching local locations in Japan.
The staff took photographs of different locations in Japan and learned how to naturalistically draw and animate scenes that reflected modern Japan. The team also have a keen sense of the beauty of the outdoors with impressive outdoor sequences that showcase the beautiful greenery of Japan's land. The silhouetted beauty of the natural sun and the impressive shadows that reside with Japan's scenic views pierce the film with radiance.
As the story is about a group of young students, Toshio Suzuki felt the younger staff at Ghibli would understand how to approach this material better than either Miyazaki or Takahata given their own ages and experiences. The call was correct. Though the film went over-budget and took longer to complete than originally anticipated, the final film has held up as an important part of the studio's unique legacy.
Though Ocean Waves isn't on the same level of Miyazaki or Takahata's best productions, Studio Ghibli still delivered an excellent film that is remarkably well-made and that is worth discovery. The film is undoubtedly different from what most Ghibli fans are accustomed to. It's a slow-key drama which doesn't take a fantastical route in telling it's story. It's told with a grace and style which reflects the quality and approach of those at Ghibli.
Music is an important part of any film. Ghibli is well aware of that element of filmmaking. With masters like Joe Hisaishi continually offering sublime scores to the works of Miyazaki, Ocean Waves had to deliver something special. It did just that as the music composed by Shigeru Nagata (Here Is Greenwood) is both melancholic and serene. It reflects the nostalgic aspect of the storyline and the romantic undercurrent of the filmmaking.
The screenplay was written by Kaori Nakamura (The Secret World of Arrietty, When Marnie Was There). Though many might question why this project was done in animation instead of live-action, Nakamura tells the story in a way that translates well to animation. The material is perfectly suited for Ghibli with its focus on characters and unique storytelling. The focus on the characters aids the filmmaking.
Tomomi Mochizuki, who was 34 at the time of production, directed the feature. Mochizuki and the other staff members were largely in their 20's and 30's when the production occurred. Though Mochizuki had previously directed for anime series (including Ranma 1/2) Ocean Waves was his feature film debut. Mochizuki makes the transition seamlessly as he does a stellar job of telling the story. Ocean Waves is a moving, heartfelt, and memorable effort by Ghibli's younger staff and it holds up as an essential work in the pantheon of the studio's legacy.
Ocean Waves arrives on Blu-ray from GKids with a stellar 1080p high definition presentation in the original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. This is a beautiful 4K restoration effort which preserves the wonderful art and style of the film. The film has a high bit-rate encode. It looks pristine with no noticeable print flaws or damage. This is a remarkable effort which will satisfy all fans of Ghibli's exquisite art style.
The film is presented with a lossless audio 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation. The audio is crisp, clear, and well defined. The audio fidelity is exceptional. This is a great sounding audio presentation. The English subtitles are also quite impressive. While dub fans will be a little disappointed Ocean Waves did not receive a dub for its North America debut, GKids has certainly still delivered an exceptional quality release that should not be overlooked.
Please Note: This is a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack release.
Ghiblies: Episode 2 (24 min., HD) is a short feature (a sequel to Ghiblies: Episode 1, which aired on television with a TV special). This production continues and expands on the adventures of the Ghibli animation staff as they bring to life stories from their animation team. The special was produced for and attached to The Cat Returns theatrically in Japan but it is now making its North American debut on this release. It's a charming and entertaining short that is essential viewing for Ghibli fans.
Looking Back: Staff Reunion (50 min., SD) is one of the most enjoyable supplements I have ever seen on a Studio Ghibli release. It features a sit-down reunion and discussion between director Tomomi Mochizuki, screenwriter Kaori Nakamura, animation director Katsuya Kondo, and other animators involved as key members of the Ocean Waves young production team. The insights into Ghibli and the production of this film are essential. This is a must-see special.
Feature-Length Layouts (HD) are offered for the film. The layouts offered give insight into the early development of Ocean Waves. The art is shown in sequence (much like viewing early storyboards) and is only occasionally interrupted with brief black-and-white footage of the feature film when layout transitions are missing.
Trailer for Ocean Waves
Though Ocean Waves was not previously available in North America, it doesn't make it any less important or essential as a Studio Ghibli film. Audiences in America can finally see this gem of storytelling and animation. GKids has delivered a first-rate presentation which won't leave anyone disappointed. The film's 4K restoration is a perfect representation of the film. The supplemental package is terrific and should not be missed by any Ghibli fan.