From Up on Poppy Hill, released in 2011, is the second Studio Ghibli film directed by Gorō Miyazaki, son of the universally acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki, and that is a damn shame. Because no matter how well his films are received he will always be known as the son of Miyazaki, always a shadow in his comparison, and critics and fans alike will likely always write him off as nothing more. I cannot speak for Gorō’s first film, Tales from Earthsea, as I haven’t seen it, but without a doubt, From Up on Poppy Hill is most certainly a Miyazaki.
Although this film was received a few years back, and was subsequently translated and released in the US in 2012, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure to watch it in full. A friend brought his Ghibli collection over yesterday and I chose to watch this one as I wanted a chance to see Gorō at work. The translation, I must point out, was horrid. Watch it in Japanese, as the movie was meant to be. Moving on. (This review contains spoilers up until roughly half of the movie).
It’s a pleasant film – a slice of life anime that takes you into a small, peaceful village, which is home to an old, decaying building that many still treasure and use, despite the fact that it is set to be demolished. The films protagonists all happen to be high school students who are extremely fond of the heritage the building possesses as it is home to the schools many academic clubs and has been for over a century. It’s a mess of a building, and as tradition holds, the students never cleaned it – naturally the board wished to knock it down. Despite the grime and trash, it was beautiful in its managed dishevelment. Many of the films most gorgeous usage of animation are held within the confines of this building. Strangely, it’s a place I would have liked to have visited.
Taking place in 1963, just before the Tokyo Olympics, the film had strong references to the lives lost in WWII, a motif potent in Ghibli films of late. Umi Matsuzaki, a young girl in said high school finds that in her efforts to help her friend Shun Kazama save the clubhouse, they fall in love with each other. While at her home, Umi shows him a picture of her father who was killed in the war. Shun realizes it is the same picture he owns, of his father. This film hits you right in the feels.
The lighthearted feel of Studio Ghibli films, as a whole, doesn’t quite compare to the young innocence that From Up on Poppy Hill exudes, and it’s a refreshing detour away from the more fantastical adventures the company is well known for producing. But unfortunately, I found the ending a bit unsatisfactory. I can’t really explain without spoiling it, but it actually made me more confused (after it all seemed so clear). Regardless, a very entertaining film, clean, with no spiritism, violence, or explicit language, but still at a level of maturity that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. It can’t be easy to live in the shadows of arguably the second greatest animator of all time, but I eagerly look forward to Gorō’s next film.