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Review: Ocean Waves

Dropped by IFC Center to catch Ocean Waves, a lesser known Ghibli production that, like Only Yesterday, never made its way to the U.S. Unlike most of the venerable animation studio’s output, this one wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but neither were some of my personal favorites (including Whisper of the Heart and the more recent When Marnie Was There), so I had high hopes.

While I don’t want to call Ocean Waves a disappointment considering my unrealistic expectations, it was a… surprisingly generic melodrama: Boy meets Girl, Girl is aloof and selfish, Boy tries to help Girl, Girl drives Boy to near insanity with her antics, Boy eventually realizes that he’s madly in love with Girl in spite of her numerous flaws (if you think all of this sounds anything but generic, trust me: these are well worn storytelling conventions in Japan).

This predictability doesn’t necessarily make Ocean Waves a bad film, but in the company of work as emotionally evocative as Miyazaki’s and as boldly experimental as Takahata’s, its stature is greatly diminished. I enjoyed my time in the theater, but the experience didn’t leave as deep an impression as, say, Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away.

The real treat came after the end credits rolled: a screening of Ghiblies: Episode 2, a series of vignettes following the zany misadventures of a trio of animation studio employees. Utilizing a variety of gorgeous visual styles, the 25-minute short exemplifies the immaculate craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail that made me fall in love with Ghibli’s filmography, while adding an unexpected ingredient to the familiar recipe: broad comedy. Unlike Miyazaki’s realistically reserved protagonists, the characters in Ghiblies convey their emotions explosively–often literally, such as when the coworkers are launched through walls and into orbit after choking down excessively spicy curry. This unapologetic slapstick humor lends some welcome variety to the studio’s extensive catalogue of epic fantasies and poignant dramas–which only deepens my appreciation for its more “meaningful” contributions to the medium of animation.

[Originally written January 8, 2017.]

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