From Up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から/Kokuriko-zaka Kara)
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Umi is a teenage girl who lives in a boarding house with her siblings and grandmother in Yokohama in the 1960s. A stern and independent girl, she is known locally for raising shipping signal flags outside the boarding house every day, a routine that makes her the subject of a poem in the local newspaper.
Umi attends a local high school where she meets Shun, a brash and outspoken boy who performs a wild stunt at school to draw attention to a political cause. Shun opposes the planned demolition of Quartier Latin, the school’s clubhouse. Umi winds up helping Shun at the clubhouse with the publication of the school newspaper, and supports him in his bid to save the old building.
As the two attempt to persuade the school chairman to spare the newly cleaned-up clubhouse, their relationship takes an unexpected turn, and some intriguing details about their family histories are revealed.
Produced by Studio Ghibli and based on the manga series Kokuriko-zaka Kara, ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is the second animated feature directed by Goro Miyazaki.
The animation presented in this film is superb, apparently undiminished by the rolling blackouts that disrupted production in the wake of Japan’s 2011 tsunami disaster. In preparation for the film, Goro Miyazaki reportedly studied the look of 1960s Yokohama, but ultimately decided to focus on attractive visuals rather than merely recreating the past. As a result, whether the characters are riding a bicycle pell-mell through the town in twilight, or navigating choppy waters in the harbour at sunset, the artwork featured is both beautiful and nostalgic. The clubhouse also manages to be a rather wondrous place even in its derelict state, and its student inhabitants are an endearingly interesting bunch.
The film’s score is also a highlight, with toe-tapping jazz numbers and a sentimental piano score to set the mood. There are some lilting original songs, and we are even treated to strains of Kyu Sakamoto’s ‘Sukiyaki’ (Ue wo Muite Aruko), which was a hit in America around the time the film is set.
The great charm of Ghibli films is that while they never drag, they never feel hurried either. Typically here the attention to detail paid to each setting allows quieter scenes to be charming and interesting, even when characters are just waiting around, talking idly, chopping vegetables or working a printing press. Poppy Hill finds great significance in simple things like a light on in the other room, or a pot of rice not yet boiled on the stove.
Though Ghibli films (particularly the films of master animator Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote the screenplay for Poppy with Keiko Niwa) also tend to avoid obvious themes and morals, Poppy Hill is mainly about carrying on hopes and feelings for people and places past, and how new things are born as a result. There are old photos and dream sequences scattered throughout the film that evoke the sense of longing and loss felt by the central characters. If this sounds like heavy going, the tone of the film is actually bright, breezy and at times, funny. The result is a coming of age drama that is light on the actual drama, but manages to be heartfelt and deeply moving.
In short, ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is a beautifully animated and fun family film that, while calm on the surface, carries strong undercurrents.
Introduced by Greg Corbett
Greg Corbett has been visiting Japan since 1998 and has a keen interest in its language and culture.
He teaches Academic English and helps to organise a number of Japanese cultural events in Adelaide.