ocean waves

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Ocean Waves

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: In the early ’90s, Studio Ghibli launched an unusual experiment: the studio gave its youngest animators, all in their twenties and thirties, a chance to make a cheap, quick film to show what they could achieve. Ultimately, the experiment failed in the first two aspects — Ocean Waves went over budget and over schedule, airing on local television in 1993 to little fanfare. But what those young Ghibli animators did manage to achieve sets Ocean Waves apart from the rest of the studio’s filmography: they made Ghibli’s most queer film.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: To be honest, the film that Studio Ghibli ended up making is far less interesting than the queer-coded film they accidentally made. Ocean Waves is a wistful slice-of-life film so steeped in nostalgia that it may as well be shot entirely in sepia tones, with a paper-thin plot that is stretched over 72 slow-moving minutes. But while on the surface Ocean Waves is a film about two best friends stuck in a love triangle with a truly unlikable girl, the movie’s theme of repressed teenaged angst unexpectedly becomes a fascinating ode to repressed sexuality.

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ocean waves trailer

The great Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement a few years ago following the release of The Wind Rises, only to come out of retirement a few years later to try his hand at CG-animation before announcing last month that he’s prepping his next animated feature. In other words, the rumors of Studio Ghibli’s closure were greatly exaggerated, especially since there are other talented storytellers working for Japan’s most beloved animation studio, who have released The Tale of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There since Miyazaki’s “retirement.”

And while it may be a few more years before their next feature arrives, Studio Ghibli is delivering an unexpected gift to American fans: a 4K restoration and release for Ocean Waves, their 1993 drama that was never released in the United States.

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