Ocean Waves was an attempt by Studio Ghibli to allow their younger staff members to make a film reasonably cheaply. However, it ended up going both over budget and over schedule.
The first Studio Ghibli film not to be directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, “Ocean Waves” was a TV film intended for the younger staff members of the studio to cut their teeth on, and deliver on time, on budget, within expectations…but it ballooned over budget and over schedule and senior members took more control than originally planned.
The film lacks the effortlessness of the earlier Ghibli films from more experienced hands, but is admirably ambitious, reaching for a nuanced love triangle and tale of young love and growth. It doesn’t meet a lot of its apparent goals, but it tries, and does a task certainly more difficult than trying to make a creature-led children’s film or some such.
There are some creative choices regarding cropping and framing, and an impressive 3D-esque sort of panned swivel in the ending, but a lot of the film is pretty static. The school drama is relatable (of course), but some of the female characters are enigmatic enough that they come across more as ciphers than people. Perhaps the studio is simply more suited to having female characters as the leads, and falters a tad when relegating them to the sidelines? Then again, “Porco Rosso” did a pretty good job characterising female side characters inhabiting the same world as the titular lead man (well, pig).
It’s an enjoyable experience and its drama is engaging at times, but it’s undoubtedly lesser Ghibli. Three plane tickets, and a bathtub.