From Up On Poppy Hill

Japan, 1963: in the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics, Umi Matsuzaki lives in her grandmother’s house on top of Poppy Hill, overlooking Yokohama Bay. Hard-working and conscientious, Umi gets up early every morning to perform her various chores and make breakfast for the household: her grandmother Hana, younger siblings Riku and Sora, and the various boarders who stay with them. And every morning, Umi raises nautical flags on the flagpole outside the house as a message of love to her father, a supply ship captain who was lost at sea during the Korean War.  Umi attends Kanon Academy; one day, popular and charismatic Shun Kazama, editor of the school newspaper, performs a dangerous stunt as part of a protest against the planned demolition of the ramshackle Latin Quarter Club. This draws Umi into the apparently unprepossessing world of the Club and its population of geeks and nerds, from the dangerously incompetent Chemistry Club to the Diogenes quoting sole member of the Philosophy Club. At Umi’s suggestion, Shun and his sidekick Shirou organise the Latin Quarter Club members and various other (mostly female) students to undertake the mammoth task of cleaning up and restoring the building to its former glory. However, when Shun subsequently sees a picture of Umi’s father he realises that this is the same photo he himself possesses; he soon realises that his “father”, a tugboat captain working Yokohama Bay, is not his biological parent – and that he and Umi are siblings. Which poses a problem for both of them, because they have developed feelings toward one another…

Based on the manga by Tetsurō Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, “From Up On Poppy Hill” was co-written by studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki, directed by his son Goro, and received its theatrical debut on July 16, 2011. Animated in Ghibli’s trademark style combining hand-drawn character designs pitched against detailed, watercolour backgrounds, “From Up On Poppy Hill” was Goro Miyazaki’s second feature film after his disappointing 2006 release, “Tales From Earthsea”. Warm-hearted and sentimental, the film – mostly – manages to avoid drifting into mawkish territory by dealing with its underlying themes of memory, loss, and awakening romance with a light, easy-going touch. This is reinforced by the moments of ironic humour that manage to raise genuine laughs at different points in the story. The general air of nostalgia is conveyed through representations of a Tokyo that looks very different from today’s high-tech megalopolis; this, too, feeds into the exploration of the conflict between past and present that is at the heart of the students’ struggle to preserve the Latin Quarter Club. And it is in this struggle that we also see the longing for liberation that were the seeds of the university student uprisings that would shock Japanese society in the late 60s. Charming and at times genuinely affecting, “From Up On Poppy Hill” is an entirely predictable piece that nonetheless manages to both entertain and reminisce; it also effectively conveys the complexities of youth at a time when Japanese – and global – society was itself on the verge of radical change.  

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.