Running time: 103 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
Based on a 1980 Japanese comic of the same name, Up on Poppy Hill is another charming and engaging coming of age drama from the makers of Ponyo and Spirited Away. Studio Ghibli continue to raise the bar with films that deal with real family issues but still manage to immerse the viewer into times gone by and exciting new worlds. This is partly achieved from the painstakingly detailed and beautiful animation and also from the clever storylines that the makers create. I often wonder what the average child in the western world would be like if they were ‘spoon fed’ on Studio Ghibli rather than Pixar and Disney movies? There is certainly far more substance in the Tokyo-based studio’s features than an average offering from their western counterparts.
Based in 1963, Up on Poppy Hill follows the attempts by a spirited group of students to save their crumbling high school clubhouse from being demolished by an ambitious businessman. Umi Matsuzaki (Sarah Bolger) is a strong willed but vulnerable 16-year-old girl living in a boarding house in Yokohama. Each morning she raises colourful flags from a mast in the back garden in the vain hope of guiding her father, a navy sea captain, back into her life. However it is told in flashback that his boat was bombed and destroyed during the war. When she becomes attracted to Shun Kazama (Anton Yelchin), a member of the school’s newspaper group, she agrees to help clean up the dilapidated clubhouse with the other factions of the building. Just when the two young protagonists are about to engage in a romance together, Shun receives news that his missing father may also be the same man that fathered Umi. Both teenagers are distraught and fight their emotions for each other. When the youths become aware of plans to tear down the building to make way for facilities for the forthcoming Olympic games they approach the rich entrepreneur to change his mind. However the arrival of a man who once knew Umi’s father may hold the key to Shun and the young girl’s future together.
The Ghibli studio seem capable to repeatedly churn out enchanting and subtle films that sadly filter through the western masses like grains of sand through an hourglass. I don’t doubt for one minute that if the Pixar label was stuck over their company logo that their audience quota would double overnight. What Ghibli studio films don’t offer the viewer is any obvious villain and often no resolution to all the issues that the protagonists face. They certainly offer fantasy and the ability to lose oneself but rarely opt for the fairytale happy ending where everything going back to normal. Yet they delight, charm and emotionally manipulate the viewer. One dream sequence shows Umi wake up in the boarding house and finds her late dad standing in the kitchen smiling at her. Her reaction is of total happiness and euphoria, relying heavily on the wonderful animations and the way in which the characters interact. When Umi begins to stir we see a single tear slowly slide down her cheek. It is a beautiful and bitter/sweet moment. It triggered my memory of the feelings of sorrow I encountered while viewing the classic Grave of the Fireflies. There are plenty of upbeat moments also, for instance a bumpy cycle ride down the steep streets of the seaside town and an entertaining scene where the club members tear into the refurbishment of their beloved school building. The latter reminded me so much of a long gone mall in Glasgow called The Virginia Galleries. It was full of tattoo parlours, independent record shops and poster stores. In the end it was progress that destroyed this beautiful old building. The standout sequence is when Umi speaks to Shun about the significance of the signal flags in her garden as they watch the sunset rise across the sea. It is just one of many wonderful images in a truly majestic, family feature.
The movie in storyboards.
The ‘Press Conference – Theme Song Announcement’ (39:16 HD) begins how work carrist on despite Japan’s disasters with their earthquake during the time of the conference.
The ‘Interview with Goro Miyazaki’ (17:36 HD) speaks of the reason behind the date of setting and his affection for the project.
The ‘Hayao Miyazaki’s Staff Speech’ (06:12 HD) takes place after a screening of the film, mentioning the change in work patterns amist the disaster in Japan as well as the problems encountered by films production .
The ‘Music Video – Summer of Fairwells’ (05:43 HD) as well as the ‘Original Japanese trailers and TV Spots’.
The ‘Yokohama Featurette’ (22:34 HD) gives details of the film’s location and period the film was set.
The ‘Making of Poppy Hill (English Speaking Cast)’ (21:47 HD) looks at the US version and its excellent voice cast. There is also the ‘Studio Ghibli Collection Trailer’ (07:05 HD)