Ocean Waves, known in Japan as I Can Hear the Sea, is a 1993 Japanese anime television film directed by Tomomi Mochizuki and written by Kaori Nakamura. It’s based on the 1990-1992 novel of the same name by Saeko Himuro. It was animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten and the Nippon Television Network.
As he journeys back from Tokyo to his high school for a reunion, Taku Morisaki recounts his memories of his school days, focussing in particular on a love triangle that developed between him and two of his friends.
A narrative about reminiscence and love – Ocean Waves
Centered around a love triangle between three high-school students; Taku Morisaki, the main protagonist and narrator, his best friend Yutaka Matsuno, and newly transferred Rikako Muto. The framing device of the film is Taku reminiscing on his time spent with Rikako. As he prepares to head back to his hometown of Kōchi for his school’s reunion. One way in which the film portrays Taku’s reminiscing is through these stunning freeze frames in the center of the screen surrounded by a white border, sometimes varying in size.
Mochizuki is illustrating memory and how humans recall specific aspects of experiences via this. In addition to that, the film reminds us that we are anchored in Taku’s memories through these stylish images. Furthermore, how the tales and emotions he experiences as a result of these recollections connect him to his friends and his time at school.
We follow Taku’s reminiscing from the first day. He saw Rikako, with a couple of further flashbacks to how his friendship with Taku started as well. Taku is fascinated, and possibly infatuated, with Rikako, but from the very start, he knows that Yutaka is in love with her.
Use of memory in Ocean Waves
The use of memory has a great framing device for this as how Taku reflects and reminisces on his time is exactly how the characters and events portray to the audience. A great example of this is when Rikako meets her ex-boyfriend with Taku in Tokyo. In this scene, Rikako takes on an irritating presence and behaves radically different than we’ve seen her previously. She later admits she acted differently to impress the boyfriend.
However, I think the film takes it further than this because it is in this interaction that Taku sees her differently and rejects her personality. In addition to that, the filmmakers translate this memory of the event to the audience in a jarring tonal shift.
Still, Ocean Waves is a deeply charming and resonant look at the tug of longing that so often comes with memory, the utter mess of youth, and the beautiful delirium of love. However, those seeking the grandeur and fantastical elements of other Studio Ghibli films ought to temper their expectations. Ocean Waves is, first and foremost, a drama in a minor key. The sort of love story you don’t even realize is a love story until after the fact.