In 1960s Yokohama, Japan, Umi (Masami Nagasawa) is a young girl who helps her grandmother run a boarding house. With her mother away in America and her father killed during the Korean War, Umi is in a position of responsibility for her younger brother and sister. At school she becomes friends with Shun (Junichi Okada), a fellow student and publisher of the student paper. When the building that hosts all the boys’ clubs is slated for demolition, Umi and Shun work together to save the old building, in the process developing a strong friendship. When a surprising connection to their past and families is revealed, how will it effect each of them and the final fate of the clubhouse?
The second feature from Goro Miyazaki, From Up on Poppy Hill is adapted from a manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama with screenwriting credits from Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa. Though not unprecedented, this movie is a departure from the fantastical films that typically make up Studio Ghibli’s more well known films. Set in a historical period with realistic human characters, From Up on Poppy Hill is sweet and divinely animated film that demonstrates a decided advancement in the younger Miyazaki’s technique. Character designs are simple but developed and the animation is fluid and smooth. The backgrounds are amazingly detailed and carry a postcard-esque quality that is classic Ghibli.
With a very strong performance by Nagasawa, Umi is a terrific lead that is well developed and amazingly human. She’s strong but still vulnerable and her trials and experiences make for compelling storytelling. Okada is good as Shun and he is a decent male lead. He’s likable and somewhat lionized a bit in the film, but it is a solid performance that compliments Nagasawa’s well. A large cast rounds out the performances and for the most part are good. Some of the caricatures of club members didn’t always connect with me, but they keep the film light and should give a few real laughs to even the most cynical of viewers.
Satoshi Takebe provides a feather light score that evokes 60s pop and club/lounge in Japan. Somewhat quirky but truthful to films made during the time period in which the film is set, it is apropos and catchy but lacks memorable tracks. For a more intimate film such as this though it works. Reteaming with singer Aoi Teshima, who previously was the lead in Miyazaki’s debut Tales From Earthsea, sings two vocal tracks including the title theme. They fit quite nicely with the score and are again trademark Ghibli. Other vocal numbers by Kyu Sakamoto and the Poppy Hill Choir keep the feel of the period and plot together as well as providing breaks from the many quiet moments.
While lacking that certain something to make the typical anime viewer go ‘Wow,’ From Up on Poppy Hill is a beautiful animated picture that has a human and sweet story that may appeal more towards fans of Japanese family drama than anime-centered viewers. It is great nostalgic viewing that hearkens back to days of invincible youth and passionate dedication that our increasingly cynical and pragmatic society seems to weed out of many of today’s young people. Though the shoes of his father may inevitably be impossible to fill, Goro Miyazaki is certainly a more than capable animation director who development and work deserve to be seen.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Whispers of the Heart, Ocean Waves, Kabei, and/or Only Yesterday