Ocean Waves finds Studio Ghibli in a wistful mood

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      Featuring the voices of Yoko Sakamoto and Nobuo Tobita. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      Remember that old Northern Pikes song “She Ain’t Pretty”, with its punch line “She just looks that way”? It could have been written for Rikako, voiced by Yoko Sakamoto in this unusually gentle offering from Studio Ghibli.

      Rikako is a haughty Tokyo girl from a wealthy family, and she causes a major stir when she shows up halfway into the last year of high school in the relatively small southern town of Kōchi. She particularly catches the eyes of class prefect Yutaka (Toshihiko Seki) and his best friend, Taku (voice veteran Nobuo Tobita), who turns out to be the wistful tale’s narrator and main protagonist.

      It takes a school trip to Hawaii before Taku gets a real chance to know the ethereal-seeming Rikako, and she turns out to be, well, not nice at all.

      Produced by Ghibli’s Nozomu Takahashi and directed by Tomomi Mochizuki from a novel popular at the time, the film was made for Japanese television in 1993, and is just hitting the anime circuit now. Like most Ghibli offerings, the 75-minute tale is suffused with nostalgia, in this case for the world of VHS movies and TV cartoons of the 1980s; the characters are only having their fifth-year high-school reunion when we meet them.

      Unlike other titles from the studio that brought us Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, there are no mystical events, fanciful tricksters, or even spooky dream sequences—just the acutely observed travails of thoughtful young people facing their growing pains.

      Visually, Ocean Waves is a minimalistic affair, with the emphasis on small gestures, vocal inflections, and finely drawn landscapes more evident than big plot developments. The only element undercutting the piquancy of these recalled events is Shigeru Nagata’s cheesy synthesizer music, which dates the movie more permanently than was probably intended.

      It’s also a hint that the ending will be a bit duller and more twist-free than expected. (Spoiler alert: the boy and girl actually like each other!) But the preceding 70 minutes is like spending a sunny afternoon with an old friend you forgot you knew—and is even better-looking than you thought.