Shigeru Tamura is a visual artist whose career spans several decades and a variety of mediums. Although he is primarily known in Japan as the author of many picture books (Books from Japan). Some of these books were during the late 1980s and 1990s adapted into anime, including Glassy Ocean (Sevakis, 2009). This is a wonderful little film, whose origination from a children’s book certainly comes through in its imaginative playfulness. At the same time, it has a strong iyashikei-tone to it, depicting the exotically fantastical with idyllic gentleness through its relaxed pacing, simplistic design, pleasing color palette and delightful score by Hiroshi Ogasawara. Its iyashikei quality furthermore includes its narrative and thematic content as well.
The film opens up in black and white, with a boy by the railing of a traveling ocean liner together with (presumably) his father. The boy has a pair of binoculars with which he looks out over the windy ocean. The father tells him that there is probably a big fish following them, upon which we track away from the ship and out into the vast ocean. An old man suddenly appears within the frame, who instantly strikes with his pick axe into the wave that he is standing on. As he does, the tracking camera freezes along with the entire ocean, and the black and white shifts to a warm green. With this we have entered the setting of our story: a temporal in-between at a moment of great impact – that impact being (as is later revealed) the leap of a whale from the ocean. Yet unlike 00:08, the wondrous world that is presented here does not exist within a single frame, but is instead a parallel realm where the ocean’s passage of time is significantly slower. People, including the old man and his painter friend, start to gather around the whale to witness this grand event. As the hours pass, the whale rises higher and higher in its leap, at one point being positioned up in the air, before finally landing inside the water again. This moment, which in the black and white realm is over in just a split second, here takes half a day.
Evidently, this is above all a story about time – particularly seizing time. Whereas La Maison en Petits Cubes echoes the mono no aware side of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, Glassy Ocean echoes its carpe diem side. It is about pausing the passage of time (or at least one’s concern for it) and patiently appreciating life’s little momentary wonders. Such a pause does not follow a path toward a destination; the film lacks a dramatic structure, with no particular goal or conflict driving the witnessing of the leaping whale. Instead, its story consists of continual narrative detours, with characters reminiscing about past stories or recalling dreams they’ve had. Despite these detours being completely inconsequential to the main narrative, they are treated with no less care and consideration. In this story every little episode deserves time and appreciation. Indeed, the main narrative itself is essentially one big detour. At the film’s final shot, after the event is over, we return to the boy and the father. The boy notices that a whale is about to jump “at any moment now,” while we track away to see the ship continue its journey toward the horizon. If there is anything to take away from this carpe diem iyashikei, it is the value of detours, however temporally small they may be.
Sevakis, Justin, “Buried Treasure: Glassy Ocean”, Anime News Network, 6/25/2009, <https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/buried-treasure/2009-06-25/glassy-ocean>
“Shigeru Tamura たむらしげる”, Authors, Books from Japan, <http://www.booksfromjapan.jp/authors/item/1954-shigeru-tamura>