Sunday, July 1, 2012

From Up on Poppy Hill (Japan 2011)

Serving as Goro Miyazaki's second film as director, and my first review in almost a year, From Up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から) is just about what you'd expect at this point from Studio Ghibli. Yeah, that's a good thing.

Umi Matsuzaki (Masami Nagasawa) is a 16 year old girl that probably works harder than most teenagers you and I know. Not only is she a student, but she helps to run a lodging house, taking on cooking and cleaning duties. Why? Because her mother, Ryoko (Jun Fubuki), is a researcher, currently in the United States. She stays at the house with a mix of different characters including her younger siblings Sora (Haruka Shiraishi), and Riku (Tsubasa Kobayashi), doctor-in-training Miki Hokuto (Yuriko Ishida), and her grandmother Hana (Keiko Takeshita), among others. At school, she and friends notice that a group of boys are protesting the demolition of their clubhouse. The school wants to tear it down because it's become incredibly rundown, a safety hazard and basically an eyesore. Taking the lead in protest is Shun (Junichi Kozada), the president of the school newspaper. He's a rather confident, well-spoken young man that Umi soon finds herself admiring. Typically too busy for anything but school and the lodging house, Umi now finds herself getting involved with different projects at the clubhouse just to help Shun and his friends. She wants to impress Shun and even gathers a ton of students to help clean the place up. The two begin developing a friendship and their feelings for one another grow stronger with each encounter. When Shun visits Umi's house for a dinner party, she tells him about her father and how his ship went down in the Korean war. She stills raises the flag for him every morning outside of the lodging house, even though he passed when she was just a child. When Umi shows Shun a picture of her father and his friends, Shun seems taken aback by the image. When he returns home from the dinner party, he looks at his photo album and realizes he has the exact same photograph in his collection. But why? Feeling uneasy and unsure about this revelation, he begins to give the cold shoulder to Umi, regardless of her manning the helm and continuing to help in restoring the clubhouse so that it can avoid being torn down. Why would Shun have the same photograph as Umi? And will the students be able to save the clubhouse from being demolished?

Goodness me, the trials and tribulations of Japanese youth in the 60's. From Up on Poppy Hill, unlike most other Studio Ghibli films, is a film that puts the focus strictly on the characters and their relationships without any fantasy element, thus giving it a great sense of realism. I'll tell you flat-out that I'm a sucker for all things Studio Ghibli. They can almost do no wrong in my eyes. I also didn't hate on Goro Miyazaki's directorial debut, Tales from Earthsea. That doesn't mean I'm biased though. I got this way because Studio Ghibli continues to put out excellent pieces of art with these films. From Up on Poppy Hill is no different in that it continues that fine tradition. I'm pleased that the running time for this movie is only around 90 minutes, because most of my criticisms in the past towards Ghibli films is that they tend to run a bit long. Umi's character is instantly likable, as is Shun, and the twists this movie throws at your are quite intriguing without being too long-winded or far-fetched. I was genuinely interested in what the connection between Umi and Shun was and it was fun to watch the students band together in order to save their clubhouse. The animation was pretty top-notch in my opinion, which is also the Ghibli standard, and the musical choices fit perfectly.

If you love Studio Ghibli films as much as I do, then you're going to enjoy From Up on Poppy Hill. For those who aren't sold on Ghibli works, then this probably isn't going to win anyone over. Harsher critics may feel this is run-of-the-mill stuff, but for those with a soft-spot for Miyazaki, it's guaranteed entertainment. (Lee)

Grade: B

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