Studio Ghibli has been creating beautiful realised animations in Japan since the late ’80s, and gradually the Western world has begun to love their painstakingly crafted animations. Often ungenerously described as the “Japanese Disney”, what has set their films apart from Mickey and Co. is the consistent high quality and willingness to tackle issues that will engage older and younger viewers alike. With a back catalogue including Spirited Away, Princess Monroke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service and many more, the prospect of a new release is always a special treat.
Umi lives with her grandmother, running a small boarding house whilst her mother studies in America. She also looks after her siblings whilst raising her flags every day to remember her father who died in the Korean War. Her life is set into a pattern until meets the enigmatic Shun. They connect immediately as she gets embroiled in his struggle to help save the school clubhouse, an unexpected discovery throws their relationship into turmoil.
From Up on Poppy Hill is wonderfully drawn and animated as we’ve come to expect from Ghibli. I watched the dubbed version (which is normally a big no-no for me, but the care and attention paid by the studio to their English track means that you lose nothing) and it lives up to their normally high standards. There is a beautiful dream sequence within the animation which is an unexpected treat, and whilst the story is not as powerful or “big” as say Nausicaa, it’s a very poignant and moving little gem.
However, as is often the case with their films, From Up on Poppy Hill tackles a bigger issue – the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of modernisation and the almost thoughtless destruction of the past. Set in 1964 in the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, it’s a theme that’s as resonant today as it was then. As the school children fight to save their culture and history in the face of popular apathy, it makes you stop and think about how successive generations view the past. Post-War Japan is a subject oft overlooked in the West, but the levels of poverty, deprivation and devastation (not to mention the effect on the Japanese psyche) cannot be understated.
As is their want, Ghibli once again go with a strong female heroine. Umi is a product of her time, having to fulfil an adult role at the expense of her childhood. She encapsulates the era in Japan; torn between grief for the past and looking towards a hopeful future .Once again Goro does a great job of filling his father’s boots at the helm. It looks beautiful, and as always looks so alive and vibrant; nowhere else are such beautiful and lovingly created animations being produced.
From Up on Poppy Hill is a beautiful film which will appeal to all ages, and a refreshing balm to the slew of American animations filling the summer schedules.
Dir: Goro Miyazaki
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Aubrey Plaza
From Up on Poppy Hill is out now at the Showroom