Title: From Up On Poppy Hill
This is the story of a high school girl, Umi, who helps her grandmother run a boarding house, raises her younger siblings, and goes to school, while her mother studies in the US. Her father, a sea captain, was killed during the Korean War. It’s the eve of the 1963 Tokyo Olympics and the country is caught up in modernizing for the games. One day a group of boys who run various clubs from a decrepit old building called the Latin Quarter are protesting its imminent demolition, which leads to Umi meeting the boy Shun. As Umi and Shun’s relationship grows she makes a number of increasingly dramatic discoveries about their past.
Ages 9 and up
This is a quiet story of relationships that unfolds slowly throughout the course of the movie. There are themes of love and loss that may go over the heads of younger children. This movie is really ideal for teens and tweens.
There is nothing in particular to be concerned about from a content standpoint. There are moments in the story where the subjects of infidelity and incest come up but are ultimately resolved.
Merran and I had a debate – although nothing like the debate in the movie, which briefly appeared to be a game of Bo-Taoshi – about whether this film would appeal to American teens. Merran thought it was too slow and wouldn’t hold their attention but I feel that the story is engaging enough that most kids would get into it.
One thing we both agreed on were the frequent scenes of domestic work – Umi making dinner or breakfast, cleaning, shopping, etc. – were strangely compelling. Miyazaki has always been notable for the way he includes incidental details in his animation that give it a grounding in reality. He embraces the way characters pull on their shoes or wrestle with an umbrella in a way that doesn’t focus too much attention on them. Many animators might ignore these quirks as unnecessary in the long and laborious process of hand-drawn animation but Miyazaki knows these details will bring the cartoon characters to life.
There are moments in this film where certain transitional scenes of people walking down a street or a truck going by have a distracting jerkiness. The scenes are meant to establish the setting and bring you into the world but the choppy movement spoils the effect. At first I was annoyed that our theater had a bad print or something but in researching the film later I came to realize that this was likely the result of production delays caused by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. In light of this I can forgive the momentary distraction but I hope they go back and rework some of it before the DVD release.
One final quibble, I’ve been talking a lot about Miyazaki in reference to the father, Hayao, who had significant input as writer and producer but the film was directed by the son, Goro. This is only Goro Miyazaki’s second feature as director and while he’s no doubt benefitting from his father’s guidance there are still things he needs to develop on his own. One that stuck out to me while watching this film was the lack of expression in all the characters’ eyes. No matter what emotion was playing out on screen the characters always had the same almost unchanging large round eyes. I know the artistic style of the eyes is a hallmark of anime but one of the reasons the eyes are often drawn that way is to amplify the emotion of the face. Goro Miyazaki needs to work on the expressiveness of his eyes.
Beyond that, however, I have very little to complain about. Immediately after this movie ended I wanted to watch it again right away, which is as good a recommendation as any film can hope to get.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment or have something to add?
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