Studio Ghibli is revered by animation lovers the world over. During the company’s 31-year existence, its output has been relatively small, because the artists who founded it — Hayao Miyazaki, director of films including “Spirited Away” and “The Wind Rises,” is the most famous — are never less than painstaking.
The studio’s 1993 film, “Ocean Waves,” was produced for television and initially conceived as a slight break from time-consuming meticulousness. A tale of young love, adapted from a novel by Saeko Himuro, it was directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, who supervised junior staff artists. The undertaking proved to be as quality-conscious as that of any of the studio’s other works. Now released in the United States for the first time, it is a fascinating variant on Ghibli’s house style.
The film is, at first, about Taku and Yutaka, high school boys who bond when they protest their strict school’s suspension of a class trip. They live in what urban Japanese consider the boondocks, the island city Kochi. Rikako, a girl from Tokyo who joins their class, enthralls Yutaka but attaches herself to Taku. First she hits him up for money, then puts him in an awkward position, obliging him to travel with her to Tokyo.
The narrative is complicated, using flashbacks within flashbacks. The animation style is largely realistic, not even aspiring to the impressionism that distinguishes another Ghibli nonfantasy film, Isao Takahata’s “Only Yesterday” (1991). But in its sensitivity and attention to detail, “Ocean Waves” makes itself into something special, and kind of magical, and so proves very much a Ghibli gem.
☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Yoko Sakamoto, Yuri Amano, Kae Araki.
Director: Tomomi Mochizuki.
Running time: 1:16.
Rated: PG-13, for mature teenage themes and face slaps.
Note: In Japanese, with English subtitles.