You know how some movies make you roll your eyes, because those goggles which are too firmly attached to your eyes, are clouded with cynicism? Well, From Up On Poppy Hill is an animation which could very easily smash a hole in them and make you aww out loud. In public. From the makers of Spirited Away and released for the first time in UK cinemas, Studio Ghibli can do what many filmmakers can’t these days, make young romance palatable.
I’ll admit I walked into the screening with a little scepticism. From Up On Poppy Hill is helmed by Goro Miyazaki, who’s first attempt, Tales From Earthsea, wasn’t quite the success story anybody would have liked. This time around he’s lowered the scale for the better and weaved a simpler tale, one which has renewed this reviewer’s faith in his ability to take over and carry on the Miyazaki legacy (he’s the son of Hayao Miyazaki). Not that I had any reservations that he could do it. To cut the guy a break, very few people can say their first full length feature film was any good.
His second feature on the other hand? Now this is worth celebrating. The year is 1964. Set in the city of Yokohama, From Up On Poppy Hill is a love story about two high school students potentially entering into a forbidden love. With Japan still picking itself up after the devastation World War Two, the new crop of youngsters struggle to work towards their futures, all the while holding onto the importance of the past. Umi (Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) find themselves drawn to one another during a fight to save their school’s clubhouse from demolition, but a discovery about their pasts could put the possibility of a future romance off indefinitely.
What I’ve always loved about Ghibli animations is the scenery, and From Up On Poppy Hill doesn’t disappoint here. The beauty of 1960s Yokohama is perfectly captured with every line, colour and detail; the harbour captivating in all its busy, bustling finery, backed by a stunning view of the surrounding hillsides and town. The perfect setting for a romance. Except, for a moment there I was taken aback by the direction Umi and Shun’s relationship was going. It moved into territory Shakespeare himself would have been proud of. You’ll understand my meaning when you watch Umi and Shun’s tentative interaction with one another.
If you’re familiar with the Ghibli archive, this smaller animation runs more along the lines of Ocean Waves and Whispers of the Heart, rather than epic adventures like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. There aren’t any witches or creatures lurking in the shadows, and the only mysteries are of the human kind, fuelled by misunderstanding, miscommunication and parents withholding information. It’s about teenagers and their relationships. Only, without the smut and crude banter we’ve come to expect of stories these days. It was refreshing really to watch a film so unapologetically sweet and genuine.
Which is why I urge you to allow your mind to reset when you pop to a local cinema to see for yourself. It’s a very human tale about youngsters hoping for a brighter future, and deserves to be treated as such.
From Up On Poppy Hill is out in the cinemas listed below now!
Picture House Greenwich
Arts Picture House Cambridge
Phoenix Arts Leicester
Phoenix Picturehouse Oxford
Picturehouse at FACT
Watershed Media Centre
Hyde Park Picture House Leeds
Light House Dublin
Dukes at Komedia
Harbour Lights Picturehouse