- Asian Cinema

title intro image

Original Title

Umi ga kikoeru






Tomomi Mochizuki
- Ranma 1/2 TV series (1989)
- Kimagure Orange Road: The Movie (1988)

DVD Availability

Available on DVD from Optimum Releasing in UK.

Ocean Waves


If you're looking for giant robots fighting, or tentacle monsters praying on scantily clad girls, I'm afraid you've stepped out on the wrong floor. Please go back into the elevator, ride it down to the depths of hell where you belong, and don't let the broken hearts and the wide-eyed innocence hit you in the back on your way out. Take heed! This animated film is an unflinching teen drama, and only those who truly appreciate that sort of thing can safely sit down and hear the rest...


Our story begins on a train station in Tokyo. A young man, Taku Morisaki, spots a girl on the other side of the tracks that reminds him of someone he once knew. As he thinks back we follow him into the past, to his days as a student in Kochi.

Morisaki and his best friend Yutaka Matsuno are fascinated by the arrival of a new girl in school, Rikako Muto, just transferring from Tokyo. She is mysterious, beautiful, quiet, and a very capable student. Matsuno, being the class representative, gets to show her around, and he's immediately taken with her, despite Morisaki's warning about "girls like that".

Soon, however, Morisaki finds himself equally attracted to the new girl, though he's incapable of decoding her mixed signals. Perhaps because of this, he soon finds himself embroiled in her considerable personal drama, and as his frustration with her grows, so does the tension between Morisaki and Matsuno, when it slowly begins to dawn on the two friends that they are now also rivals.


There's a new girl in school! Is there a more classic starting point for a teen film? No, I can't think of any either.

"Ocean Waves" patiently sets up an equally classic drama between two boys and one girl. Mostly the focus is with Morisaki, though, (he narrates after all) and from the very start it's obvious that the poor guy is heading for a world of hurt. His contact with Muto will bring him many surprises and disappointments, it'll be a roller-coaster ride that shifts between fascination and resentment with breakneck speed, as he tries to keep up with the unpredictable girl. And just when you're about to protest, at just the right time, Morisaki has the presence of mind to cry out "this is worse than a soap opera!"

You'd expect that a film with a 72 minute running time, would get to the point in a hurry, but "Ocean Waves" takes its sweet time setting up the drama. If you're looking for scandals and screaming arguments in the hallways, you're better off checking out old Beverly Hill 90210 episodes. What surprised me most about the film was how calmly and delicately the story developed. Admittedly some might call it trivial and boring, but I was intrigued that something so subtle could be produced with animation.

Made in 1993, "Ocean Waves" comes without the bells and whistles of modern animated epics. The film is also a lot less spectacular compared to most other films from Studio Ghibli, even the older ones, but that comparison is just not fair. In fact, this film perfectly demonstrates how animation can be used to tell any story, even a story that takes place between real people in the real world, without any fantastic or hyper-real elements. The simple beauty of hand-drawn animation lends itself well to a simple story like this. The animation allows the filmmakers to further simplify the visual dynamics of the story and focus on the core of the drama - The three lead characters. As a result no expression on the character's faces is unclear and every emotion reaches the viewer unhindered by a clumsy animator's touch. This is very classy material.

It's no secret that you can waste an awful lot of time chasing after the wrong person. This is by no means limited to a certain age, but it often seems that the chases you experience during the teenage years have a tendency to stick with you.

"Ocean Waves" aims for nothing more than to capture a boy's infatuation with a girl, wrapped in a slightly more mature narration from the boy himself, as he looks back on the events, clearly wiser from the experience. There's a sense of melancholy about the film, but also a sweet innocence I did not expect.

I must admit I have a tendency to zone out when I'm watching animated films. Only those loud, psychotic American blockbusters can really hold my attention, but much to my amazement I didn't zone out here. I really enjoyed the film. Like I said in the beginning, if you expect monsters and robots, don't bother, but if the thought of a tender love story with a simple premise seems like a good idea give "Ocean Waves" a try.

Just remember that even though these characters are animated, their hearts break just as easily as yours or mine.


Thanks to Optimum Releasing, for making this film available to us, and to John Scrafton for his assistance.

David Bjerre
January 22, 2010