For this entry, instead of doing a film analysis, I decided to talk about a film that I saw recently called From Up on Poppy Hill, based on the Japanese comic of the same name written by Chizuru Takahashi. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s more recent films, released in Japan in 2011. It’s the second feature film directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of one of the co-founders of Studo Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki.
Being the son of an animator as acclaimed as Hayao Miyazaki isn’t easy, especially when you have such big shoes to fill. Hayao Miyazaki has directed a pretty impressive array of films, all of which have received critical acclaim (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke, to name a few). While it may seem unfair, many people are wont to draw comparisons between the father and son, and it’s only too easy for the son to fall short. It doesn’t help that the younger Miyazaki is very inexperienced with directing films. Goro Miyazaki’s first attempt at directing a feature film was Tales from Earthsea, a film that was slammed by movie critics and moviegoers alike—fans of Studio Ghibli see Tales from Earthsea as a blemish on an otherwise fantastic lineup of films from the studio.
Having never seen Tales from Earthsea before, I couldn’t pass judgment on Goro Miyazaki’s directing skills, but I was still hesitant to watch his second attempt at directing. Despite my initial reservations, the trailer for From Up on Poppy Hill made the film look promising enough. I decided to give it a watch, but I didn’t have very high expectations.
I was pleasantly surprised. From Up on Poppy Hill is a pretty relaxed, slow-paced film with a simple plot. Set in 1963 in Yokohama, Japan, it follows the story of a sixteen-year-old high school girl named Umi Matsuzaki, who raises signal flags from her house every morning communicating with the boats passing through the port. It’s a tradition she began when she was younger to communicate with her dad when he was at sea, and it continued after her dad’s ship was sunk during the Korean War. The film takes place in a time when Japan is eager to forget its war-torn past; the Olympics were to be hosted in Tokyo the following year, and it became a symbol of the “new Japan”, and the struggle between remembering the past and moving forward becomes a overlying theme in the film.
The plot of the film is pretty easy to follow, and it’s very simple—Umi gets involved in an effort made by her classmates to prevent the demolition of the school’s old club building. Some students believe in an “out with the old” outlook, while others have an attachment to the building and wish to keep it standing, despite its age and run-down appearance. There’s also a bit of romance, which I thought was a cute and accurate depiction of first love. There was an odd twist thrown in towards the end, but overall the film was enjoyable.
My favorite part of the film would probably be its setting; the historical basis for the film was very interesting to me, especially as someone who grew up in the United States and didn’t really stop to think about the post-war era in other countries. I also really enjoyed the pretty backdrops and the feeling of quaintness that the film takes on. The plot was enjoyable enough, but what really sold me was the aesthetics of the film.
Overall, I think that From Up on Poppy Hill is a nice film to watch in order to pass the time, and although it doesn’t command your attention the same way Studio Ghibli’s more fantasy-based films do, the smooth animation that is typical in Studio Ghibli films is enough of a reason to give this film a watch.