A couple of weird moments do little to hurt this charming rural drama.
“It’s like some cheap melodrama.”
What is about Studio Ghibli that makes their films so likeable and charming? I currently have a team of scientists researching this, and their current target of probing is Goro Miyazaki’s 2011 drama From up on Poppy Hill.
Set at the Port of Yokohama, the film follows Umi, a teenager living in a boarding house with her siblings, grandmother and a few others while her mother studies abroad. She’s a junior in high school, and generally keeps to herself. That is until president of the school newspaper Shun Kazama enters her life. The two start to get to know one another and a romance begins to bud between them.
Meanwhile, the clubhouse used by the various school clubs (and exclusively boys) is set to be demolished, much to Shun’s dismay. Rallying up as many people as possible, Shun leads the kids, banding together and working hard to keep the building clean and intact, and as this is happening Umi and Shun grow ever closer together.
There’s not really a whole lot going on in this movie, as you can probably tell. Here, Goro Miyazaki brings us an idyllic Japanese town crammed with nostalgia for the audience members who long for the sort of picturesque village life that seems to only exist in movies. The setting and the mood of the film is the real star here, and Miyazaki works tirelessly to make From up on Poppy Hill an experience more than a story.
He achieves this excellently, making us long for a childhood that was never ours. Poppy Hill squeezes memories of our childhood in 60s Japan when statistically none of the viewers were there. By loading the main character with sympathetic and relatable characteristics, we empathise with them and attach our childhood selves to them. Aiding him in this quest is the art direction, which is suitably gorgeous. The backgrounds are atmospheric and do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to setting the mood of each scene, and the animation is predictably great as well. It’s easy to describe if you’ve already caught any of Ghibli’s small-town dramas before: image that one, but different.
The biggest issue – and it says something about the quality of this film that it’s pretty damn minor – is that the story starts to build weird, soap opera twists and turns that get resolved about as weirdly as they begun. They hang a lampshade on this, but the developments are still just bizarre. What ultimately makes these so minor is that despite it, the writers manage to get maximum emotion from this. It helps build the characters and while it does drive the story, the plot isn’t the main focus here. It’s the mood, the setting and the interactions between characters that is, and like I mentioned above, all of that is excellent.
From Up on Poppy Hill is exactly the sort of movie you’ve come expect from the studio and if you’ve seen Whisper of the Heart or Only Yesterday, then you know exactly what you’re going in for: beautiful art, touching moments and a really likeable main cast. What more did you want.
Verdict: Unassuming and seeped in nostalgia, From Up on Poppy Hill delivers everything you expect from the seasoned animation studio.
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Soap opera moments: 2
Philosophy club: Needs to chill the hell out
Why was Shun riding his bike by Umi’s house just when she needed him?: Asking the right questions here.
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
Also known as: コクリコ坂から (Kokuriko-zaka Kara) “From Coquelicot Hill”
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa; Tetsuro Sayama (manga)