Ocean Waves [I Can Hear The Sea/Umi ga Kikoeru] (1993)

Youth Is Wasted On The Young

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Ocean Waves is a real unsung gem of the Studio Ghibli library, with this made-for-TV film running at a very digestible and economical length of 72 minutes. Ocean Waves tells the story of Taku Morisaki (Nobuo Tobita), a high school student in a provincial town in the Kochi prefecture whose world is turned upside by a transfer student from Tokyo named Rikako Muto (Yōko Sakamoto). I’ve read many comments and reviews that express a strong dislike for this character usually reserved for the likes of Scarlet O’Hara and it’s not hard to see why – she is spoiled, manipulative, selfish and rude. The city girl thinks herself superior to the provincial folk in the town she has been incarcerated in and even says at one point she hates the area and guys who speak with a Kochi dialect. Rikako gives no acknowledgement for all the trouble she puts Taku through from lending her money, finding himself escorting her to Tokyo at the last minute and being forced to sleep in a hotel bathtub (some men will have the patience of a saint when it comes to a pretty girl). The will they/won’t they story becomes increasingly unlikely as the relationship between the two deteriorates so bad that they end up slapping each other in public, while in another incident soon afterwards Rikako gives Taku another powerful slap for no good reason in an excellent piece of animation as the beautiful young woman suddenly appears so unattractive. Yet as a viewer I can feel sorry for her as her parents are divorced and she has been forced to move with her mother (of whom she resents) to another town against her will (and being on her period as she declares doesn’t help matters). Although I can understand for other viewers she remains unredeemable.

Ocean Waves is also a love triangle story with Taku’s best friend Matsuno Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) also being in the pursuit of Rikako. The film hints there may be a homosexual attraction between Taku and Matsuno. In the scene in which the two meet for the first time, Taku narrates “Since then, in my mind, Matsuno was different from the others” – a possible dog whistle that the two are friends of Dorothy not to mention the scene is very romantic in nature but it’s ultimately left ambiguous. Regardless their bromance serves as another great relationship dynamic. This slice of life anime is full of those relatable high-school moments which make you go “oh yeah, I remember going through a moment like that”.

The animation present in Ocean Waves is not to the quality of Ghibli’s theatrical films, but for a TV production, it still looks great despite a few technical issues. Several background characters appear as mannequins with no face but more significantly, the film does have some framing issues. I am unable to discover if Ocean Waves was created in the 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. Being a made-for-TV production from the early 90’s I would imagine it was created in the former but I can only find copies presenting it in 16:9 of which the vast majority of the film looks perfectly fine however a number of shots do appear as if a 4:3 product has been zoomed in to fill a 16:9 screen with character’s heads being unnaturally cut off. Likewise, the film does contain some dodgy edits and several scenes have white borders running around the screen of which I fail to see their purpose. That said, such technical quirks are made up for the fact that Ocean Waves is a visually beautiful piece of work featuring many a lovely Ozu style pillow shot. Animation of real-life (for lack of a better term) is something rarely seen in the west (King Of The Hill being the most well-known example and yes, my favourite anime), a shame as it provides an opportunity to create a beautiful Technicolor-like look. Concurrently, the music score by Shigeru Nagata is an underrated work of melancholic wonder. With a main theme that is somewhat reminiscent of Dave Grusin’s score for On Golden Pond, the serene, nostalgic score is the kind that makes you want to reminiscence on days gone by (where music is absent the ever atmospheric sound of cicadas fills in).

At its heart, Ocean Waves is about the complexity of human relationships and the growing pains they endure. During their high school tenure, Taku and Matsuno violently fall out over Rikako but reunite post-graduation, showing how grievance during one’s school years becomes irrelevant later in life. During the reunion party, the characters speak of how everything seemed like a big deal in high school, but post-graduation they have come to realise they were getting upset over matters which were ultimately insignificant in the years to come.  They even speak of affection for Rikako who didn’t attend the reunion, despite how snobbish and stuck up she was. Taku even looks up at a castle in the night and remembers all the times Rikako complained and ranted to him with a smile on his face accompanied by the film’s beautiful score. Ocean Waves concludes with one of Cinema’s most enduring love story tropes, as the unlikely couple find themselves reunited by chance at a train station – an ending that encapsulates pure cathartic, romantic joy.

The Red Shoes (1993)

It’s Really Happening To Ya!

It’s a close call but The Red Shoes is my favourite Kate Bush album; a record which really is all killer and no filler. This is her most pop sounding album, not that being necessarily being a bad thing as pop music is an art form itself, while the album still has Kate’s stamp of unusualness. The back cover of the album shows an array of fruit which is appropriate as The Red Shoes contains some of her most rich compositions. Bush was going through emotional turmoil at the time of the record’s production with a series of personal bereavements and it shows on the album. The album has both the happiest and saddest songs of her career with songs of both despair and hope.

To discuss the happy side of the album, the lead single Rubberband Girl feels very distant from the grace of Running Up That Hill or The Sensual World; instead, this is probably the most danceable song Kate Bush has ever done. If Kate Bush was going to do at least one song which echoes a mainstream pop dance song, at least it still has her trademark weirdness. If Kate had to outdo the epic nature of This Women’s Work with another haunting cinematic in nature ballad then she certainly achieved that with Moments of Pleasure; a song about the journey of life itself with every lyric being a piece of powerful imagery. There’s no point even identifying any single examples, all the lyrics to this song are so majestic.  Eat the Music is her most erotic song, loaded with sexual imagery in a seemingly innocent tune. Constellation of the Heart on the other hand, what a jam! This regularly appears on lists of worst/least best Kate Bush songs, but sorry, I absolutely love it. Why Should I Love You? features Prince on back vocals, and it’s clear he definitely had a part to play in this song’s evolution with the final product feeling like something out of Paisley Park; not that there’s anything wrong with it. I highly recommend listening to the un-Princed demo; I find both are excellent in their own way. The vocals on the demo are haunting even if the song does meander a bit; the album version tightens it up. Big Stripy Lie is the least pop/most avant-garde song on the album, one which isn’t pleasant to listen to but it’s not supposed to be; it is, after all, Kate taking on organised religion. The title track of the album continues the line of Kate’s Celtic infused songs, and in my view one of her most energetic; I don’t know about you but this song gets me pumped every time I hear it.

Moving away from happy street to depression alley, these sad songs on The Red Shoes contains some of Bush’s most powerful vocal performances from the impassioned plea in Top of the City (a song which may be about literally about suicide) to The Song of Solomon; her only song in which she curses. But if you think The Song of Solomon is sad bastard music then you ain’t heard You’re the One. What strikes me about this song is that there is no hidden meaning; the lyrics and obvious and direct. Right from the first line, “It’s alright I’ll come round when you’re not in, and I’ll pick up all my things”, you know what you’re in for. It’s such a desperate song and she sure saved the most tragic track for the end of the album. Every song on The Red Shoes is a fascinating piece of work; a rare album in which I can say I find every song memorable.

The songs on The Red Shoes were given more of a live band feel as it was proposed Kate would tour the album. Sadly this never materialised but what we got in its place was a 40-minute film featuring a selection of songs from The Red Shoes and directed and starring Kate entitled ‘The Line, The Cross and The Curve’. Anyone who is a fan of Kate Bush and her Kate Bush-isms, this film is pure nirvana. Granted Kate’s acting isn’t the greatest but its still Kate, I could watch her in a feature-length film and still be completely entranced even if her acting is dodgy. Ok, I’ll try and keep the fanboy sentiment aside. It seems hard to believe this is Kate Bush’s first (and only) foray as a film director as the direction itself is superb. It’s a low budget film but that doesn’t get in the way. Ok, the shot of her legs moving uncontrollably is a rather poor special effect and unintentionally funny but you could see it as part of the film’s camp appeal which has always been an element to Kate Bush’s work (dancing devils anyone?). The film is full of breathtaking imagery and recaptures the warm and soft colours reminiscent of Powell and Pressburger and even the ending is suspenseful. It’s a shame this was Kate Bush’s only foray into filmmaking; she later dismissed the film as “a load of bollocks”. How can an artist create such a powerful piece of work but for them to think little of it themselves? Unfortunately, this would be the last we’d see of Kate for 12 years.