Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka Kara)

Studio Ghibli is typically known for their sweeping fantasy films, but that doesn't mean all of them are like that. One film that I love from Studio Ghibli in particular that isn't even remotely fantasy is Grave of the Fireflies. That isn't the only one set in the "real world," but it probably is the most well known. Another Ghibli film that deals with the real world is the film From Up on Poppy Hill. While it is quite a bit more recent than Grave of the Fireflies and not quite as engrossing, I don't think From Up on Poppy Hill gets enough respect as a Ghibli film. Maybe times will change that, maybe not. 

There are a number of reasons for this, though. Those reasons don't have much to do with the film, but they are worth mentioning since they regard the film's director, Miyazaki Goro. Goro is the son of the famous director Hayao and the two of them had previously worked together on Goro's 2006 directorial effort Tales from Earthsea, but creative differences caused Hayao to walk away from the movie. Hayao thought that Goro wasn't ready to direct a movie at the time and maybe the fact that Tales from Earthsea is typically considered to be one of the Studio Ghibli's lesser efforts by many fans proves Hayao right. I dunno. I haven't seen the movie in question yet, but I will. 

I have seen From Up on Poppy Hill, though. And I think that Hayao's actual involvement in this film should tell you a bit about Goro's growth as a director. 

To date this film is Goro's only other directorial effort, but with Hayao's retirement supposedly cemented I don't think it could hurt Goro to make another film. From Up on Poppy Hill certainly showcased his considerable talent well. 

We start with our main character Matsuzaki Umi. Umi is a typical high school student living in a boarding house overlooking the port of Yokohama. Every morning she raises flags to honor her father who was killed when his ship sank in the Korean War. The flags are meant to wish sailors a safe journey.

Then one day there's a poem about Umi in the school newspaper. The author of the poem just happens to be Kazama Shun, the school newspaper president. It seems like a perfect high school love story, but then the Board of Education decides to demolish the clubhouse Quartier Latin in time for the 1964 Olympics and it's up to Umi and Shun to save the building. 

Along the way they grow closer, but Shun discovers something about Umi's father that might just put the kibosh on their blossoming relationship. 

The atmosphere of this movie is very easy-going and the sense of nostalgia is strong. I didn't even grow up in Japan in 1963 (Hell, I wasn't even alive until 27 years later), but the movie did give me that sense of yearning for simpler times that a lot of coming of age stories do so well. And that really is what From Up on Poppy Hill is. While I'm not quite sure a lot of other Stateside viewers felt a strong connection, I do think that the connection is certainly there if you use your imagination a bit. Culture may not be universal, but childhood certainly is. 

This movie is definitely a breath of fresh air and it does what it does very well. It's certainly not the greatest film Studio Ghibli ever made, but I can't think of a reason why anyone would actively dislike it. You know, outside of someone just wanting to be a cynical prick. 

I enjoyed this movie. 

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