From Up on Poppy Hill (known in its native Japan as Kokuriko-zaka Kara) is an animated movie based on the eighties manga penned by Tetsuro Sayama. This Studio Ghibli feature is directed by Miyazaki, but don’t get too excited because the man at the helm is not Hayao, but rather his far less talented son Goro. Poor Goro will forever live in his father’s shadow… although on the plus side he does kick arse in Mortal Kombat.
Set in sixties Yokohama, the movie revolves around the teenage romance between Umi Matsuzaki and fellow high school student Shun Kazama. Umi is mature beyond her years after spending much of her youth raising her siblings in the absence of her parents. Umi’s father sadly died during the Korean War whilst her mother is presently abroad studying medicine. This leaves Umi following a busy schedule composed of schoolwork and helping out with chores at her grandmother’s boarding house. Shun, who is the son of a tugboat captain, writes for the school paper and is presently fighting against the school board who are proposing to demolish his dilapidated clubhouse.
Most of the movie deals with Umi and chums trying to convince the powers that be to spare the aforementioned clubhouse, by restoring the structure to its former glory. There’s also the small matter of the romantic chemistry building up between the leads, although a surprising revelation later in the flick seems to scupper any hopes of the two getting together. For a brief stint I was wondering if the creators would have the courage to explore what would have been a controversial love story, but in the end they decide to take the easy way out. Just as well as I doubt Disney would have localised the movie in the States had Ghibli opted to go with a questionable courtship.
Although I was impressed by how well Ghibli’s talented artists managed to recreate sixties Yokohama, whilst watching the movie I couldn’t help but yearn for a more colourful and whimsical setting. A dreary harbour town cannot compete with the dazzle of something like Spirited Away’s world, which may explain why Poppy Hill isn’t as memorable as other features in the Studio Ghibli library. Out of the handful of Ghibli films I have watched I would have to say that From Up on Poppy Hill is the one I have enjoyed least. That’s not to say that it is a bad movie though, as even a mediocre Ghibli movie is a darn sight better than your average cartoon.
I think I would have preferred the movie if the characters had a bit more personality. Everyone is so polite and courteous that no one really stands out. There’s not even an antagonist to root against, which is a shame. The script could have easily been livened up if the chap advocating the demolition of the clubhouse was a colourful moustache-twirling villain. All my misgivings aside, I still think the movie is worthy of four stars. The writing is solid, the voice acting is good and as you would expect from Studio Ghibli the movie is saturated with impressive artwork. Anime fans should appreciate From Up on Poppy Hill, but it’s too slow paced for kids. If you want to keep the young-uns entertained I would suggest buying one of Gibli’s grander offerings instead.