Director: Gorō Miyazaki
Release date:
July 17, 2011
Rating:
 
★★★★
Review:

Like ‘Ocean Waves’ (1993) and ‘Whisper of the Heart‘ (1995) ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is one of those Ghibli films that could do well without animation. There’s no fantasy or metamorphosis around. Instead, the film is a modest little human drama. In fact, the film has much in common with the two earlier Ghibli features. Like ‘Whisper of the Heart’ ‘From Upon Poppy Hill’ has a female teenager star, and like ‘Ocean Waves’ there’s a strong air of nostalgia pervading the movie, especially in the gorgeous and evocative background art.

‘From Upon Poppy Hill’ takes place in harbor town Yokohama, somewhere between 1961 and 1963, before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and after the release of the melancholic song ‘I Look Up as I Walk’ by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, which is heard several times during the movie, and which even became famous in the West back then, with the silly and out-of-place title ‘the Sukiyaki song’.

‘From Upon Poppy Hill’ focuses on teenager Umi Matsuzaki who lives with her grandmother and little brother at a boarding house with five female boarders, for whom Umi cooks breakfast and dinner. Umi’s mother is a professor, who’s abroad most of the time, while her father, a seafarer, has died in the Korean war (1950-1953). Each day Umi raises some signal flags in remembrance of her father. These are seen by Shun Kazama, a schoolmate who works at a tugboat. Both Umi and Shun thus are hard working children, so typical for the Ghibli studio.

The story focuses on the love that grows between Umi and Shun, and some unforeseen complications it raises. But there’s also an important subplot in which Shun and his fellow students try to protect their old club house called ‘The Latin Quarter’ against demolishing. Only when Umi starts to help, leading an army of female students, the protest gains momentum. The clubhouse scenes provide some comic relief in an otherwise emotional deep and heart-breaking story of friendship, love, and loss.

It’s impressive how the film makers show the emotions in the subtlest of ways. For example, at one point Shun evades Umi’s presence, but we see her reaction to this neglect only sparingly on her face, and with the slightest of actions. Thus, when Umi finally lets her emotions flow, it hits the viewer all the harder.

Hayao Miyazaki’s son Gorō Miyazaki does an excellent job as a director, and the animation is top notch, especially on the main characters. There are a few flashback scenes and there’s a short dream sequence, but otherwise there’s a strong unity of time and place, with all the action taking place in only a few settings and in a limited time frame. The film thus stays focused all the time, even when showing minor deviations from the main plot, like one of the boarders leaving the house.

In all, ‘From Upon Poppy Hill’ may be a modest film, in its emotional depth it’s in no way less impressive than the studio’s more outlandish masterpieces like ‘Spirited Away’ (2001) or ‘Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea’ (2008). Highly recommended.

Watch the trailer for ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

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