Thursday, 29 August 2013

Studio Ghibli Anime Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

It is said, and it is an opinion I frequently cite, that Studio Ghibli are the Pixar of Japan. While, as with most analogies there are glaring discrepancies, it is apt enough that I continue anyway. Because really, I don't think I could name two companies that so effortlessly make products that are simultaneously 1) Beautiful 2) Engaging 3) Smart and 4) For the whole family. I can think of nothing else that would be enjoyed by every echelon of my extended family.

Got an e-mail request for the music I mentioned, prepare.

Just within the selection pictured here we have everything from Crime Caper to WW2 fighter pilots, Newspaper slapstick and Norse Mythology. 

Hayao Miyazaki, pictured above is the creative flair behind most of the films, save for a few produced by others, most notable Isao Takahata. Miyazaki's son Goro is directing the film I'll be writing about today, though he did write the screenplay for it. The film in question being "From Up on Poppy Hill", the first Ghibli film I've had the pleasure of seeing during the cinema release and not 4 years after on an anniversary screening.

So beautifully picturesque it hurts.

If you want to just skip all my fluff and have the review now, then yes, From Up On Poppy Hill is amazing. If you liked any other Ghibli film, you will probably like this. It is emotional, the animation's incredible and the soundtrack's amazing. It will make you nostalgic for a time you never even saw, which incidentally is 1960s Japan. I left the cinema pondering why life isn't as beautiful as a Ghibli movie. Anyway, onto the detailed reviewing.

The Review

From Up On Poppy Hill, based on the manga meaning roughly the same thing "Kokuriko-zaka Kara" (I'm not a botanist, but a friend tells me it is a different type of flower) is quite a simple story, but so powerfully told in animation, mysticism, music and emotion that it has been hard to remove from my mind. It revolves around Umi, a Japanese girl at school in the 1960s. Her father died at sea in war and her mother is away, so she looks after a surprisingly vast household of characters by herself, grandmother and sister included.

The motif of Father lost at Sea is both prominent and harrowing, the flags she raises in the picture I will show below are very potent symbols, other characters also suffer from the same premise, deepening it. Besides that aspect, the remainder of the plot is based around the school trying to save their niche, but historical clubhouse, called the Latin Quarter. Which the school wants to demolish.

These two plots are interwoven around both the two main characters, Umi and her love interest Shun, as well as more cleverly, the Japanese 1960s. It keeps being mentioned that the Olympics are coming to Japan, an event that was largely symbolic of Japan's integration with the modern world after World War 2. Modernity and the West in competition with Japanese culture seems to be an underlying theme throughout. We see televisions, glimpses of a post-war Tokyo. More to the point, the deaths at sea happened during the World War 2 and the Korean War, both with their own loaded conceits to do with Japanese interactions with the West. One character's father died during the atomic bombings. It is this unrestrained, but subtle references to the quandaries that permeate the plot which elevate it to above average.

Even the clubhouse, "Latin Quarter", seems to suggest a place where foreigners had previously lived, now turned into a bastion for Science, Western Philosophy, and Newspaper Printing by the students. The central love story is slightly generic at points, but generally impressive. I was invested in both characters, and they are presented a major point of conflict in their relationship not just designed to generate tension. 

I'm not really sure what else I can say without spoiling the film, which I think I might be already in danger of doing. It is strange. It is definitely Romance and Comedy, but to call it a Rom-Com would be a disservice. It has more heart than any "Rom-Com" I have seen. This has improved my opinion of Goro Miyazaki's directing skills immeasurable, overall if it is not remembered as a Ghibli classical because of the ordinary setting and lack of fantastical elements, then that is a damn shame, because this film fantastically portrays the ordinary. 


  1. I saw Arietti and I was so captivated, my chips went cold. If this film was like that one, I must see it.

    1. I've still yet to see Arrietty much to my annoyance. Always out when Film4 show it =/

  2. I wish I had the translation for that hauntingly beautiful song. Do you know of one?

    1. It means Summer of Goodbye, and I do indeed. It is an incredible song, glad you agree.

      (Sorry for the late reply, I was at Comic-con, article pending)

  3. A bream is a fish, good man. A fish.

    This is sort of posh pixar, pixar with style.

    1. Yeah, Pixar as the kid who has really nice water-colours.

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  5. The bond and dynamics between the siblings, the games, the competitions, the awesomeness of it all (!).
    Best cartoons