The story is set in the city of Kōchi, on the Japanese island of Shikoku. It concerns a love triangle that develops between two good friends and a new girl who transferred from Tokyo.
This film 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.
Distribution company Wild Bunch has recently licensed the film to a number of European releasing companies, including Optimum. It will be released in the UK as part of the Studio Ghibli Collection. However, 28 December 2016 has Movie in theatres.
At Kichijōji Station, Tokyo, Taku Morisaki glimpses a familiar woman on the platform opposite. Later, her photo falls from a shelf as he exits his apartment before flying to Kōchi Prefecture. As the plane takes off, he narrates the events that brought her into his life. The story is told in flashback.
In Kōchi, two years prior, Taku is working in a restaurant, where he receives a call from his friend, Yutaka Matsuno, asking to meet at their high school. He finds Yutaka at a window, looking at an attractive girl. She is a transfer student from Tokyo whom Yutaka was asked to show around. Taku's interest piqued, he tries unsuccessfully to view her. The boys discuss their upcoming school trip to Hawaii.
Taku meets Yutaka at the school gates, where he is introduced to the new girl, Rikako Muto. She smiles, and thanks Yutaka for his help. He explains that she was asking for directions to a bookstore. Walking home, Taku teases him about his infatuation.
Rikako proves to be gifted academically and at sports, but also arrogant. Taku believes she is unhappy at having to leave Tokyo. His mother learns from gossip that a divorce brought Rikako's mother to Kōchi. In a later phone conversation with Yutaka, he also discovers that Rikako is living alone, away from the family house.
The school year ends, heralding the Hawaii trip. Taku, suffering from an upset stomach, is heading through the hotel lobby where he is stopped by Rikako. She explains that she has lost her money and asks to borrow some, as Taku has a part-time job. She persuades him to lend her ¥60,000. Promising to repay him, she warns that it may take a while and not to tell anyone. As she departs, Taku sees a stern Yutaka and feels compelled to explain. Later, Rikako admonishes him for telling Yutaka about the money. She tells him that Yutaka has also made her a loan of ¥20,000, and again insists that he not tell anyone.
Back in Kōchi, the third year begins with Rikako making a friend, Yumi Kohama. Rikako has not yet returned Taku's money and he wonders if she has forgotten. Out of the blue, a distressed Yumi calls Taku, explaining that Rikako had tricked her into coming to the airport on the pretence of a concert trip, only to discover that their real destination is Tokyo, with tickets paid for with Taku's money. He races to the airport, sending Yumi home, saying that he will accompany Rikako.
Upon arrival, it appears that Rikako has not given her father any notice of her intent, interrupting his planned trip with a new girlfriend. Her father thanks Taku, repays the loan and arranges a room at the Hyatt Regency hotel. Later, a dejected Rikako turns up. She explains that when her parents were fighting, she'd always sided with her father, but had now discovered he wasn't on her side. Comforting her, Taku offers her his bed and attempts to sleep in the bath. The next morning, Rikako seems back to her normal self and kicks Taku out so that she can change to meet a friend for lunch. Taku wanders around the city. After catching up on sleep at the hotel, Taku receives a call from Rikako asking to be rescued. The friend she met turns out to be a former boyfriend, Okada, who is not quite the person she remembered him to be.
Returning to Kōchi, Rikako ignores Taku, but doesn't hide from others that they spent a night together. Taku discovers this from Yutaka, who had earlier confronted Rikako. He had also admitted his feelings to Rikako, but had been rebuffed. Taku confronts Rikako in class for hurting his best friend, calling her "The worst!". She responds by slapping him and he returns the favour.
The autumn school cultural festival arrives and Rikako, who has been avoiding rehearsals for the Yosakoi dance, has become even more distant from the other girls, many of whom openly dislike her. They confront her behind the school, but Rikako stands firm. One girl believing that Rikako was flirting with her boyfriend attempts to strike her, but is held back. Taku, who has seen it all, approaches Rikako and comments that he is impressed with the way she handled herself. She slaps him. Yutaka confronts a somewhat stunned Taku, who tries to explain. Yutaka punches him and then walks away, leaving Taku to pick himself up. They do not talk for the rest of the year.
Back in the present, Taku's plane lands and he is offered a lift home by Yutaka, who explains he punched him because he realized Taku had held back his feelings for his sake. At a class reunion, former student president Shimizu mentions she had run into Rikako at the department store, and how she wouldn't be present. As Rikako was attending Kochi University, she had flown to Tokyo for her school break, missing the reunion. He realises that Rikako was the woman he'd seen at the station. Walking home, Yumi tells Taku that she, too, had met Rikako, explaining she couldn't make it to the reunion. Rikako had said she wanted to meet a person she knew, but wouldn't say who... saying only that he slept in bath tubs.
In Tokyo, Taku again sees Rikako across the platforms, but this time runs to find her. The train pulls away, but he notices someone to the right. Seeing her, he realises that he had always been in love and crazy about her.
- Taku Morisaki: Nobuo Tobita
- Yutaka Matsuno: Toshihiko Seki
- Rikako Muto: Yōko Sakamoto
- Yumi Kohama: Kae Araki
- Akiko Shimizu: Yuri Amano
- Okada: Jun'ichi Kanemaru
- Tadashi Yamao: Hikaru Midorikawa
- Taku's Mother: Ai Satō
- Rikako's Father: Kinryū Arimoto
- Principal: Takeshi Watabe (He also acted as a Kōchi dialect instructor for cast)
Production was controlled by Studio Ghibli, but much of the animation was produced with the assistance of J.C.Staff, Madhouse Studios, and Oh! Production, who had worked with Ghibli on past projects.
This film was the first Ghibli anime directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. Tomomi Mochizuki, who was 34 years old at the time, was brought in to direct. The film was an attempt to make anime solely by the young staff members, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Their motto was to produce "quickly, cheaply and with quality", but ultimately it went over budget and over schedule.
Disney has the rights of distribution of Ocean Waves in United States. In 2008, distribution company Wild Bunch announced that it had licensed the film to a number of European releasing companies, including Optimum. It was released in the UK under the title Ocean Waves on January 25, 2010, shortly before the planned theatrical release of Ponyo, as part of the Studio Ghibli Collection and carrying a PG rating from the BBFC. As with the film Only Yesterday, it was released with subtitles only.
In Spain the film is distributed by Aurum and was released on DVD in November 2008. The DVD includes Japanese and Spanish audio tracks and Spanish subtitles. It was titled as Puedo escuchar el mar (in English translation I Can Hear the Sea).
In Australia the film is distributed by Madman Entertainment as a subtitle only DVD.
The website Animé Café gave the film 4/5 stars, noting this to be "A graceful and mature offering from Ghibli's younger generation".