From Up On Poppy Hill

From Up On Poppy Hill


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

There is not a giant yellow Totoro demon in sight in Japanese director Goro (son of the legendary animator Hayao) Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill. This gently paced and sweet natured Studio Ghibli animated project keeps firmly in the lineage of their real-world dramas like Grave Of The Fireflies, Only Yesterday and Whispers Of The Heart . Here again we have young, wistful characters trying to find their place - and each other. The setting is Yokohama in 1963, still a bustling seaside town in postwar Japan that is just beginning to experience the start of the rush of Japan’s rapid modernisation.

The story centers on an innocent romance beginning to bud between Umi and Shun, two high school kids caught up in the furore over the planned demolition of the ramshackle school club house that is a haven for the freaks and geeks of the radio and debate societies. Umi is a diligent, over conscientious student and homeworker who helps run the household while her professor mother is away in the US. But her hard work masks her sorrows. Every morning Umi raises the naval signal flags up the flagpole in the garden that overlooks the harbour, a gesture of respect to her long-dead seafaring father.

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Shun, on the other hand, is more the class bad boy, diving from roofs into swimming pools and leading the petitions to save the club house. The school’s girls adore him, but when chance brings he and Umi together, a strange bond grows between them despite their differences. When the children work together to save the dilapidated Meiji era club house from demolition - Shun doing the organizing and Umi the graphic design - their tentative relationship begins to grow. But then a buried secret from their past emerges that changes the nature of their relationship.

An awareness of the weight of Japan’s troubled twentieth century history and the fears of what the rushing future - namely the coming 1964 Olympics - will bring, nip at the edges of this melodrama, though they never overwhelm it. The young characters live in the shadow of war - both the Second World War and the Korean conflict are still fresh wounds. Yet the tone overall is not pessimistic, more nostalgic, and ironically it is the young who seem to be more concerned with holding onto some elements of the past compared to the adults. It is hard not to be charmed by yet another set of endearing and youthful Ghibli characters carrying on amidst some particularly vibrant animated landscapes which have the air of the hand-drawn about them. Deserving of special mention is the fantastically lush animated vision of Yokohama - in 1964, not yet the kind of busting containerised port familiar to us today, it is recreated here as a charming hilly melee of cigar chomping sailors, the ringing bells of bicycles, and the yells of fishmongers. The dusty, creaking club house is a genuine delight of animation design.

Much of the film, storywise, is devoted to watching Umi and Shun simply going about their daily lives as trucks and cable cars clatter past, with Umi’s devoted domestic ethos meaning she is constantly bustling about the markets or rustling something up in the kitchen. That unfortunately is one of From Up On Poppy’s Hill failings - the pace is rather too sedate and the subtitled Japanese audio version’s dialogue doesn’t always crackle, nor the plot really surprise. Coming of age animated stories are something one would think Ghibli staff could knock out in their sleep.

Still, a vivid and charming recreation of a small-town Japan at the crossroads, and some excellent sound design, make this trip to Yokohama a thoroughly pleasant one.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2013
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A new friendship and the prospect of romance are thrown into disarray by a shocking revelation.

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki, based on a story by Tetsurô Sayama

Starring: Masami Nagasawa, Junichi Okada

Year: 2011

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Japan


Glasgow 2013

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