Umi ga Kikoeru (Ocean Waves) Coming to US Theaters

It has taken many years of begging and pleading, and now it has finally paid off: Studio Ghibli's 1993 TV movie Umi Ga Kikoeru (I Can Hear the Sea) is coming to North American theaters! With this release, all of the Studio Ghibli feature films will have been released on our shores.

GKIDS, who hold the theatrical distribution rights to the Ghibli film catalog (in addition to several home video releases), will release the film under its "Western" title, Ocean Waves, on December 28 at the IFC Center in New York City. An expanded theatrical release will then commence in January and continue through March. Cities and dates will continue to be added in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to find out if Ocean Waves is coming to a city near you.

Umi ga Kikoeru/Ocean Waves was a project for Ghibli's younger animators, and the first time Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata was not directly involved in a studio production. It is a romance melodrama involving several young adults who join together for their high school reunion, which sparks memories of old friendships, rivalries and romances. It fits squarely within Ghibli's "neo-realist" style, akin to Grave of the Fireflies and Omohide Poro Poro. This is a style of animation that Japan excels at, and is virtually nonexistent in the West. I would hope this movie helps to inspire artists and filmmakers to create new films in this style.

I'm a great fan of Umi/Ocean. It's a quiet story, understated and subtle and emotionally honest. The art design is restrained and natural, yet full of small details of modern Japanese life. And the final scene makes a dramatic homage to Yasujiro Ozu that never fails to amaze and inspire. I bought the Japanese DVD a decade ago, which also features a 40-minute documentary with the filmmakers, which I do hope will appear on the inevitable GKIDS release, which should arrive sometime next year.

Looking at the official website, I do not see any mention of an English-language dub, nor have I heard anything about any American voice actors cast for the film. We must assume that this movie will be presented only in its original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles. This is probably for the best; this is a Japanese movie that doesn't try to sell itself to Americans. Hearing a cast of California actors would just be too jarring (this was an issue I had with GKIDS' dub soundtrack for Omohide Poro Poro). The Ghibli Freaks will buy movie tickets and will probably prefer the original film untouched. The mainstream public will not be interested in an animated youth drama. They'll be much happier watching Finding Dory again.

That's fine. Not everything has to become wildly popular or hugely successful. The most interesting things in life always lie off the beaten path. You have to search out and discover the true hidden gems. Umi ga Kikoeru is a true hidden gem. You should seek it out and treasure it always.

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