Friday, 31 July 2015

Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

While it is true that most of the Studio Ghibli classics are epic anime that feature magical stories and fantastic adventures, a number of their beloved releases are indeed ‘smaller films’ that tell realistic stories, like Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday and Tomomi Mochizuki’s Ocean Waves. And Goro Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill belongs to that latter group. It is a smaller-scale film that is charming and crowd-pleasing.

Umi is a teenage girl who lost her sailor father during the war. She misses him a great deal, and raises signal flags wishing passing ships safe voyages every morning. When her school’s old Latin Quarter clubhouse is under threat of demolition, she works with her fellow students to save it. There, she meets a young man whose father is also a sailor.

The overall mood of this coming of age story is one of lightheartedness. The portrayal of the various student clubs and how they struggle to find new members brings fond memories of Masayuki Suo’s classic comedy Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t. The dialogue is upbeat and has a sense of cheekiness. During one of the film’s few moments of sadness, a main character makes the comment that it is ‘like some cheap melodrama’.

The film is set against the backdrop of Japan’s post-war era of industrialisation in the 1960s. The screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa (who co-wrote the script for Arrietty) and the use of music from the sixties fill the film with nostalgia. The astounding amount of details in the animation vividly brings 1963’s Yokohama to life. The theme of modernisation is touched on with lines like ‘destroy the old and you destroy memories of the past’ but is not explored in any depth.

From Up On Poppy Hill is a delightful and gentle film. Perhaps the creative team has played it a little safe, but it is hard not to enjoy it a lot. It became the top-grossing Japanese film in 2011 and won the Best Animation Film at the Japanese Academy Award.

The Bottom Line: From Up On Poppy Hill is no cheap melodrama.

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