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Ocean Waves - Studio Ghibli's (Accidental) Queer Film

Jun 01, 2021
What did I tell you, Principal Skinner? Mrs. Krabappel, it's time... Barkley.. ..make your first points. It's 8 to 7... Next question Yo, the best protection against AIDS is keeping your Calvins on. Now that... ..could definitely come between me and my AIDS In 1993, Studio Ghibli released the closest thing to a B-level movie they'd ever make. Initially an attempt to allow younger members of his staff to make a reasonably cheap


relatively quickly. He eschewed the fantasy elements and childlike fantasy that were beginning to define the


's style... favor of a smaller, more grounded character drama. experiment in the same way.
ocean waves   studio ghibli s accidental queer film
So it's somewhat fitting that in this anomaly of his otherwise homogeneous


ography, Ghibli would


ly explore... some very interesting stuff, Ocean Waves focuses on three characters, all of whom have Japanese names which I'm going to drop in the rest of this video. Instead of following an overarching plot, the film's narrative is divided into loosely connected episodes that take place primarily during the characters' last two years of high school. The story uses the framing device of an older Taku, now in University, flying back to Kochi for a high school reunion. Most of the events in the film are told in flashback, as he recalls his experiences after seeing Rikako at a train station in Tokyo.
ocean waves   studio ghibli s accidental queer film

More Interesting Facts About,

ocean waves studio ghibli s accidental queer film...

I would divide these flashbacks into three main parts. The first of which would be the episodes that introduce us to our main characters. Using these incredibly awkward transitions, we flash back and meet Taku and Yutaka, two best friends the day they first saw Rikako, a girl who transferred in the middle of the school year from Tokyo. Then we have a flashback within a flashback and we go over how these two guys met while facing their teachers in high school. We see the inherent bond that seems to connect them. We flash back to high school with a couple of shorter vignettes that highlight just how weird the new girl in Tokyo is.
ocean waves   studio ghibli s accidental queer film
From there, the movie follows a premise that we've seen multiple times in other movies. One of the friends likes someone, but due to circumstances, often stemming from something they did or said, it's the other friend who ends up. until you spend a lot of time with the person you like. The film's version of these circumstances is the second part, the trip to Tokyo. On a school trip to Hawaii, Rikako borrows quite a bit of money from Taku, someone she has said less than two words to in her entire life, under the pretext of having lost the money for his trip.
ocean waves   studio ghibli s accidental queer film
Months later, she discovers that she secretly bought a plane ticket to visit her father in Tokyo and tricked her best friend into joining. This friend obviously drops out at the first opportunity and Taku finds himself on that plane to Tokyo. Things happen there that should be much more interesting than they are and they find themselves sharing a hotel room. Something like a conversation starts to happen, but seeing that they have the chemistry of a boiled potato and a dress shirt, it gets nowhere very quickly. Do I look a bit depressed in the movie? Well, when I was seeing it for the first time, I stopped it here and took a break.
I wasn't bored... but I was starting to get bored and I felt that taking a break would be a good decision. After a night of sleeping in the bathtub, Taku runs into his ex-boyfriend, who he doesn't like very much. And with that, the Tokyo chapter ends by getting us firmly into the melodrama. Months go by and Rikako ignores him. She learns from Yutaka that there is a rumor that the two of them stayed in the same hotel room in Tokyo. She then tells Taku about her aggressive reaction when he opened up about her feelings for her.
This is too much for Taku and he goes to confront her. And, based on the name I've given this part of the episodes, things get melodramatic very quickly. Then a few more months go by and the movie tries to outdo itself with melodrama. Taku sees the girls in his class confronting Rikako about her not participating in school activities and then slaps him again... for some reason... three minutes after the first slap. And when Yutaka finds out what happened moments later, he punches Taku. I pause the movie again and take my second break. Now, I can firmly say...
I'm bored. The running time for the film is barely over an hour and it has taken me almost two hours to get to the final act. But I'm so far away, I tell myself... so I better finish it. We transition back to the older Taku when his plan lands. Outside the airport, a car pulls up next to him, and it's Yutaka, offering them a ride. Along the way, they have a friendly chat about how different Tokyo is from Kochi. Yutaka tells him that Kyoto, where he currently studies, is actually quite similar to Kochi... And this conversation continues long enough that it's clear that the movie was trying to tell you that it means something.
Then, as he leaves him, Yutaka leans in and apologizes for the fact that he punched her in middle school. I'm half paying attention. The movie spent the better part of the last hour aimlessly wandering through scenes with uninteresting characters. So now, even though my eyes are pointed directly at the screen, my mind is elsewhere. But then as the scene unfolds... I start to notice that they're on a pier, looking out at a beautiful sunset... and the soundtrack is playing this kind of romantic synth music... and Yutaka is speaking in this soft, confessional tone. .. Shit.. he's going to say that he always knew that Taku was in love with him.
Then all these clues that the movie had planted start coming back to me... All the little signs of how special their friendship is... Moments that even hint that Taku might not be straight. Suddenly my heart is beating a little too fast and I'm kind of on the edge of my seat. I know I didn't come across as going through the events of the movie, but it's crazy how much the movie constantly makes it clear that Taku truly values ​​Yutaka. From the first flashback, when Yutaka calls him at work and tells him to come in when he's done.
Taku just drops everything on the spot. Even Yutaka is shocked by this 'You told me to come' are all Taku's answers because for him, that's all he needs to hear from Yutaka to drop everything. This is the introduction we get from his friendship and it tells us everything we need to know. The scene also ends with this beautiful line. In the high school flashback, when they first meet, Taku bows to that interaction and sums it up beautifully. Which I'm sure is clear enough on its own, but I'll add that this moment specifically is what the scene on the pier is calling out to...
With the parallel mise-en-scène and composition of the shot. Later, when Taki finds out that Rikako had been telling people that they spent the night in the same hotel room in Tokyo, the first thing he does is try to set the record straight for Yutaka, explaining the situation. That's the most important thing to him at that moment, that Yutaka doesn't get the wrong idea. Only when he finds out how rude he was to Yutaka, he decides to go and confront Rikako. When Riako is trying to borrow the money, and speaking clearly doesn't go so well, what makes him change his mind and agree is when she tells him all the nice things Yutaka said about him on her date.
He also ends that conversation by telling her not to tell anyone about the money, but then tells Yutaka seconds later. And I don't think it's because he's not trustworthy or something like that, but because for him, Yutaka isn't "just any". He didn't really click his head not to tell her. They have the kind of relationship where they share everything. It's the same when you took hits near the end. He has barely recovered and already forgave him. For Taku, this won't affect their friendship at all because it's just a minor blow. There are also a lot of subtle things scattered throughout the movie, like every time he gets confused by something Rikako did and then Yutaka shows up, Taku gets really happy.
It's so clear that he just enjoys being with Yutaka in general. As for hints of his orientation, at school Taku is the only boy in this movie who doesn't show a real interest in girls. For example, when Yutaka is spying on Rikako in the beginning, he takes a quick peek because he's pleasing his friend instead of fully participating in being a creep. Or later in PE when the other boys tell him to face the girls' court. He initially shows no interest because he thinks they are looking at the girl with the big breasts. Now obviously this could just be the fact that he's a decent person and doesn't make fun of girls, but I think when you take it in context and combine this disinterest, bordering on disgust, with his strong emotions for Yutaka . , it's really not that hard to add two and two.
At one point, Taku literally makes that connection himself. So this is all going through my head, as I noticed the romantic synth music and the wind blowing while watching the sunset. "This is great," I say to myself, "I can't believe the movie managed to set all of this up in such a subtle way!" What? So, yeah, that's where the movie goes. Obviously. An animated movie from the 90s made by one of the biggest


s in Japan... That's what it's going to do... So the movie continues going through the high school reunion and then the framing device comes back to the train station in Tokyo.
Taku goes back to see Rikako. He runs to the other platform, where she is waiting for him. The movie ends. The credits roll. And this time, I'm not really paying attention. I don't want to imply that I'm bored. I'm actually super focused, but not in this scene. My mind is still on that pier watching the sunset. I didn't just dream all that, did I? It's like everything is there... So from that point, I kind of fall down this rabbit hole. I went from not liking the movie very much to being obsessed with it. A couple of days later I watch the movie for the second time and take a bunch of notes.
A couple of days after that, I watched it again... This time pausing and analyzing each scene beat by beat. If you thought the first visualization that took me over two hours was long, I had to break it up into three sessions, on two separate days. From that breakdown, I draw a direct line for each character. Map out your character arcs, how your thinking must have changed as the story progressed, and how that affects your dynamic with the other characters. I start to put together a story retelling of the movie, right? This is supposed to be the script for this video, but once I'm done, I look back and realize that what I really put together is less of a script for a video and more of a 20 page treatment for a script.
And I realize, then, that the next natural step would be to write that script. So I start writing it in the next Nah, I'm kidding, I didn't write the script. That's when I decide to stop. I know at this point this all seems a bit crazy, but it really is all there. And the more I look at it, the more convinced I am. I've already explained some of the things the movie does, but it's not just those little moments that you can read about. I would say it's kind of built into the movie, at its core.
You really only need to change one thing and suddenly everything else falls into place. You take the scenes at the train station, that frames the movie, and you change them. Now, the themes come to the fore, the motivations of the characters make a lot more sense, and the story just gets more interesting. There's also the added benefit of making the film a journey through Taku's psychology during this emotionally tumultuous time in his life. It's about him accepting his feelings for Yutaka because honestly, his entire relationship with Rikako is based on those feelings. His character, as far as he is concerned, is framed in the context of what Yutaka means to him.
Taku's opinion of Rikako begins with the distrust we highlighted above. Later, she arouses his interest. Not only does she beat the captain of the tennis team in a match, but she also has higher grades than Taku. Something we know she is very proud of. Most importantly though, Yutaka seems to really like her. So much so, that he calls Taku at her house to talk about her. So if Yutaka likes him and she's smart and athletic Then clearly there must be something special about this girl from Tokyo. What Taku does is create this version of her that is based partly on these successes at school, partly on Yutaka's feelings for her, and nowhere on Rikako as her person.
In essence, what the rest of the movie shows us is that Taku slowly becomes disillusioned with this unrealistic version he has built in his mind and accepts the fact that she is just as flawed as anyone else and is a terrible person, but we'll see. We'll talk about that later… To me, this makes a lot more sense than trying to shoehorn this romance between them into the last few minutes. Because, on the one hand, it is super clear thatare supported. Like they don't get along. And I don't mean that kind of toxic mob where two characters constantly fight but are secretly in love.
Taku loves her less and less with each scene they are together. She constantly finds her actions rude and inappropriate. And at one point, direct offensive. For her part, she feels mostly indifferent towards him. She initially talks to him only because she has money from his summer job. She's kind to him only to the extent that he's helpful, but otherwise, she couldn't care less. And I think that's the first thing that strikes Taku, the tendency of him to wear a mask or act and then do a 180 degree turn on a dime. The first time she notices him is when she asks him for the money. her nice demeanor disappears almost instantly after she gets what she wants.
The same thing happens in the next scene when she confronts him about telling Yutaka. We get the opposite at the airport. When he's inconvenient, she's a bit rude to him, but when he says that he's going with her to Tokyo, he suddenly warms up to her. Little things like that keep happening throughout the trip to Tokyo causing these little cracks in his mental image of her. After forcing herself into her hotel room and having her basically act as her personal waiter, she begins to talk about her family problems. But when he gets involved, she quickly shuts him down.
As if he was being nosy. And it's clear he doesn't appreciate that. After she gets drunk and passes out, he gives her her bed and sleeps in the bathtub, but she wakes him up the next morning by berating him. She then kicks him out of her room because she has to get ready for an outing. All these little cracks become too much when they intersect with what started it all... her feelings for Yutaka. She receives a call from Rikako, telling her to go down to the cafe. She doesn't give him any details when she asks, saying only that.. ..he would be rescuing her from her.
When she shows up and meets her ex, it's clear that she's under the impression that Taku is Rikako's current boyfriend, which is news to Taku. Rikako and this teenage Ken doll then proceed to have the emptiest conversation on the planet and talk about Taku. , as if he was not there. He runs out of patience pretty quickly and says what we're all thinking. This is the point where she's basically completely disillusioned and you know she's also thinking of Yutaka when she says this, because it's in the next scene that Taku finds out. about how rude she was to Yutaka, making a direct comparison between how he treated them both.
And that's what pushes him over the edge. Even the second slap scene, which I still think is silly, makes more sense when you look at it this way. The first half of her relationship with Rikako was just him getting her out of situations. "Sure, I'll lend you this exorbitant amount of money, which is more than I told you I could spend." "Sure, I'll fly you to Tokyo so you can see your dad." "Sure, you can stay in my room for the night, so you can have a meltdown." "Sure, I'll act like your boyfriend to make your ex jealous" Although the latter didn't quite work.
In this scene, when he is given the chance to rescue her again, he doesn't. It's not even a dilemma for him, which shows just how far her opinion of her has come. That this scene ends with Yutaka beating Taku has more to do with Yutaka's arc than Taku's. Yutaka had been having these suspicions lately, but when Taku tells him what happened, everything falls into place in his head. Although the scene at the dock reframes it to be her jealousy or whatever, I would say that when you mix in the pain she feels from how her whole situation with rikako played out, Yutaka reacts the way many straight people have. . unfortunately they reacted when they found out that someone close to them might not be straight.
He gets confused. He gets angry and violent as well as making more sense. he adds weight to the scene when Yutaka apologizes. You can see that he has grown quite a bit in the time he spent away from Taku. When Taku says in his narration that they spent another hour on the pier, you can imagine the conversations they had. As he grows closer to Yutaka, they explore what that meant for his friendship and what that means for his future. The fact is that they are both aware that they would make a pretty good couple, but obviously their orientations don't align.
This is not an uncommon thing to have happened between some gay and straight friends. And those friendships have had to evolve beyond that point. I think it even makes the next scene that much more touching, because the unofficial theme of the reunion seems to be love confessions. Every few minutes there's a cheer when a guy and a girl admit they always liked each other when they were at school. . So while Taku and Yutaka are having a casual conversation with another classmate, there are these knowing looks between them. They just had their version of the same confessional conversation a couple of hours ago.
They know they couldn't have done it here, in such a public way. But their friendship is stronger because they were able to discuss it privately, at such length and in such detail, on the pier. And with that, Taku was able to bring some closure to everything that happened with him in high school. The disparate episodes now highlight the arc that would see Taku* begin as a character who never got closure and is chasing a nebulous glimpse of a girl. And ending up as a character who sees her on the opposite platform and lets her go. He has moved on from that chapter of his life and has accepted who he is.
In reworking the story in this way, two main problems arise. The first is that Yutaka doesn't appear much in the movie. It's so clear that Taku and Yutaka really click. But you only get a real sense of that early on, before Rikako becomes a major player in the story. After that point, he disappears until the slapping and punching starts near the end. Having more scenes like the ones at the beginning would have been very helpful because they are the only ones in the movie that focus on this relationship. We don't get space to explore their friendship elsewhere because basically every other conversation they have for the rest of the movie is about Rikako.
Which leads to the second big problem with the retelling, it falls into one of the worst tropes in regards to female characters. That is to say, that Rikako's only purpose in the film is to develop the male characters, which she feels is a couple of points below her. Unfortunately, that's the result we'll get if we want to use what's already in the movie, in this case, the whole focus on Taku's experience with Rikako. and then just rephrase it to tell the story of his feelings for Yutaka. The ideal would be to change the approach. expanding the scenes with Yutaka and, perhaps in the process, Riikako a bit more space to tell her own part of the story.
But at that point we're rewriting the movie, not just retelling it, which is not what we're looking for here. It's also important to note that the changes to the narrative don't really address the bigger issue... the fact that the movie is boring. This movie can be so boring at times and the main reason for that is definitely the characters. . The characters here range from boring to unlikable, which isn't exactly the spectrum you want to limit your story to. And if we're being honest, nothing less than a complete rewrite could solve this problem. Yutaka, for example, has the charisma of a rickety cardboard box, and Taku isn't that far behind.
Which, I mean, you could use as further evidence of how compatible they are. They can go away and get bored together drinking sodas on the rooftop while the sun shines on their banal existence. Rikaka. on the other hand, she is by far the most interesting character of the three. There's all this drama and conflict in her life. Her parents' divorce, her move from Tokyo to Kochi, the fact that she doesn't live in the same apartment as her mother, her admiration and eventual disappointment in her father and idiot ex-boyfriend her. But almost none of this is presented in an attractive way and even less is explored.
The viewer is simply told in a handful of exposure dumps. On top of that, Rikako is such an unpleasant character. She is manipulative, incomplete, lies constantly, and uses the people around her, including her naive best friend. And when she's confronted with any of this, she acts indignant, like she's the one being wronged. It's so weird that they use all this material in the climax, when Taku remembers her romantically. But the only memories he has of her are of her manipulating him, or yelling at him, or lecturing him. And she ends up becoming this surreal and unintentionally funny sequence.
They had to literally make up that final line, which you're imagining based on secondhand information... Just to make the sequence less harsh. Unlikable characters can be very attractive if you do something with the fact that they are unlikable. But when it's left to fester like this, it ends up really hindering the experience. And while it's not the point of the movie or my story, I think Rikako could have been an interesting lead. Movie history is littered with unlikable male leads who end up being great characters, but there's a serious lack of that in female leads. It's probably due to a misconception that unlikable female characters wouldn't be attractive.
Obviously this has been explored in independent and arthouse films, but I feel like we're just starting to see a broader range in mainstream movies. One example is Joy, who I find both an unpleasant character and a good lead for many of the same reasons. With Rikako, you can keep the fact that she's pampered and treats the people around her like dirt, but if the story turns on her and we start to see things from her end, she could become a lot more understanding... and with that much more attractive. Definitely more than either of these two. Throughout the fever dream she was compiling notes for this video.
I kept remembering a 2002 Taiwanese movie that I quite like, called 'Blue Gate Crossing'. It has the same three-character setup as Ocean Waves but with the genders reversed. And he uses a similar incitement incident. That of a nervous character who


ly sets a series of events in motion but with her in love with her and her best friend. So when I saw it again, I was pleasantly surprised that she basically did everything I just mentioned in my retelling without any of the problems that arose as a result. On top of that, the characters here are great and their dynamic is so much fun.
They are also convincingly teenagers. Remember, this was the time when Hollywood was trying to convince us that 27-year-old Tobey Maguire was still in high school. Something we're apparently still dealing with... So, it's nice to have them played by real teenage actors. His characterization is very endearing and, I think, accurate. They're goofy and think silly things are cool, but also curious and quite understanding in the way some teenagers can be before adult life hits them. And these are all, you know... nice traits. Things that were sorely missing from Taku's story. I think a lot of what I talked about about the


angle is actually in the movie and just requires the viewer to tilt their head slightly to see it.
And one of the reasons I feel pretty confident is because I've seen it so well in a movie like 'Blue Gate Crossing'. If you look at them side by side, it almost looks like someone saw Ocean Waves, he had the same idea as me and then used it as the basis for his script. So if something I talked about in the retelling sounds interesting, definitely give 'Blue Gate Crossing' a look. Actually, just check it out, regardless of what you think about this video. It's a great movie and I feel like not enough people know about it.
I'll probably take another look at it as soon as I'm done editing this video, to be honest. Also, maybe take a look at Ocean Waves and see if you agree with me on how obvious that Taku-Yutaka thing is. Or don't do that, maybe instead of watching either movie, you should go say something nice to someone who could really use a lift today... or maybe do that and watch the movies. Instead of sitting on your bed with your phone at an awkward angle watching videos online, I don't know... it's your choice, I don't need to tell you what to do!
OK? Bye

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