The highest grossing Japanese film of 2011, From Up On Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から) was written by the master of animation Hayao Miyazaki (with Keiko Niwa, and based on the comics written by Tetsuro Sayama), directed by Goro Miyazaki, and was produced by animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli – What a pedigree! Thankfully the film lives up to the reputation of the names behind it. It’s a heartfelt and charming story, anchored by historical facts and the strong female characters which Ghibli films are known for. Review after the jump!
It’s 1963 in Yokohama, and Japan is a nation still in recovery mode. A generation of young men are lost, and a nation and its young families are trying to forge a prosperous future without them. The film is centered around 16-year-old Umi – a young girl who has the responsibility of looking after the daily needs of her family, as her mother is overseas and her father was lost in the Korean war. She has an amazingly bright deposition, despite having to balance running a household and studying hard – her duties mean that the small delights of being a teenager are often lost to her. That is until she meets Shun – the vibrant and passionate editor of the school paper and fierce supporter of keeping the school’s ramshackle clubhouse from being knocked over.
While the school (and many of the pupils) believe the clubhouse is an unneeded reminder of the past, Shun believes it’s a piece of history that should be preserved and acknowledged. Shun’s passion fuels Umi, and she finds for the first time that she wants to fight for something. Umi also finds her own passion – but could the past get in the way of what her heart wants?
From Up On Poppy Hill is a details film, and it is the attention to the historical details which completely wowed me. Having lived in the area of Yokohama where the film was set, I was amazed to recognise the landscape and find familiarity in the shop frontage and school buildings. Set just before the Tokyo Olympics, this was a time when older Japanese were still struggling to recover, but the younger generation [who were among the first not to live through war] had their own opinions and dreams, and student politics had a large and enthusiastic following.
The students at the high school fighting for their clubhouse were extremely representative of this time. Hayao Miyazaki who wrote the film would have been a high school student around the same time – it’s safe to assume that the writer/director who is well-known for his strong political opinions would have been very much involved in student politics, like the young men in the film were. I absolutely loved their energy and lease on life.
Umi’s story was also a brilliant snapshot of the era. As the eldest daughter, she would have been expected to take over the duties of her absent mother and run the house. I really felt for her – no child should be shouldered with such a burden. The relationship between her and Shun was delightful, and I felt quite moved when things got a bit rocky between them. They were both such lovely people, and I was very invested in their happiness.
Of course being a Ghibli film, the animation cannot be faulted. I loved visiting my Japanese hometown fifty-years ago. Nature, the light, and the emotion on the characters faces – these are the distinguishing features which lift Ghibli animated films above others visually. While music is usually one of my favourite aspects of their films, I felt the some of the music in this film felt very out-of-place. For me, it was the one miss in a film full of wins.
From Up On Poppy Hill is a beautiful coming-of-age story, set in a time of change for Japan. Strong characters and a historically relevant story mean this film ranks as one of my favourite Ghibli films produced in recent times.
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa (screenplay), Tetsuro Sayama (original story)
Runtime: 91 minutes
Release date(s): Showing now for a limited time as part of the Reel Anime festival. No date currently set for wide release in Australia