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Coming off from last week’s Pre-Ghibli, primitive Panda! Go Panda!, I decided to jump forward 41 years to the present incarnation of powerhouse Studio Ghibli. From up on Poppy Hill is Studio Ghibli’s second to last release. Unlike The Wind Rises which heralded the end of an era, From up on Poppy Hill looks to the future. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, the film is a testament of Ghibli’s legacy and their new burgeoning talent.
Fans of Ghibli will be pleased with the film as it features many of the studio’s signature trademarks. From up on Poppy Hill tells the story of two star crossed high school students, Umi and Shun. Umi is a smart, mature and sensitive junior. As the staple heroine in a Ghibli film, she is much more reserved and introspective. Shun is a senior and a writer for the school’s newspaper. The year is 1963, a simpler time (I suppose) but also a time when gender roles were much more rigid and strictly defined. Umi lives in a boarding house that used to be her grandparent’s home. The house is an almost entirely female space with the sole exception being Umi’s little brother. Umi has taken over the household logistics while her mother is completing medical studies abroad. Her father died during the Korean War when his ship sunk. As a bittersweet memorial, Umi raises signal flags every single day, knowing full well her father will never emerge from the sea. While the boarding house is a matriarch stronghold, Shun and the high school boys have their man cave in the form of the school’s aging clubhouse. When the education department decides to demolish the clubhouse to build a new one, it sends a minority of the boys into an uproar, Shun included. While embarking on a possibly forbidden and sweetly innocent courtship, Umi and Shun scheme to save the clubhouse. Together they enlist the boys and girls of the school to renovate the clubhouse, turning an almost exclusively male space into a coed collaboration.
From up on Poppy Hill, was penned for the screen by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa. Miyazaki Sr.’s touch is evident, as the mostly character driven drama never fails to entertain and captivate. Understandably, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The movie, while high stakes, is not high on adrenaline pumping scenes. Instead it’s contemplative and patient, content to let the story play out naturally and effortlessly. The animation, as always, is beyond reproach. Clean lines and lovingly crafted backgrounds. The clubhouse is a drawn in such a way that it would look perfectly normal placed amidst the real world. Yet, Goro Miyazaki and his fellow animators add little touches here and there to make it look extraordinary. Stained glass panels above the entryway, a cavernous atrium lined with staircases that are filled with books and makeshift shacks. The students within the walls passionately pursue their interests in various disciplines. The house feels so alive and unique, you quickly come to care for it as much as Umi and Shun. The beautiful animation extends to the characters who in standard Ghibli fashion have large, descriptive eyes and hair that preternaturally falls and rises with the character’s emotions. It’s a subtle touch that I have always loved for it is utterly implausible manner of adding humanity to two-dimensional drawings.
From up on Poppy Hills continues my fascination and love for Studio Ghibli films. The story is well told as always, the animation is superb, and the characters- whether male or female- are created with beautiful depth and understanding. The new generation of animators at Studio Ghibli have a humongous legacy to maintain, but they have nothing to worry about.